Monday, November 14, 2011

who do you think you are?

Note: I should mention that this post owes a heavy debt to a conversation I had over the weekend with Angie who is one of the most upright citizens I know.

Last week I accidentally tipped the pizza delivery guy $14. It's not worth going into the mechanics of how you accidentally hand $14 to someone. If you've seen American money, you'll know how easy it is to mix up those bills. But, the thing that's been bugging me is the split second that I considered asking him to give it back.

It wasn't a particularly long drive from the pizza place to my house. It wasn't a complicated order. But, driving is always dangerous and rolling up to a stranger's house and knocking on the door is no small thing.

Do I really think that I deserve that $14 more than the pizza guy does?

I could go off on a tangent about capitalism and the free market and how it isn't really free at all but, I'll spare you my opinions about the 'science' of economics. We're all so tangled up in the quantification of each other and the debt that we clamor to gain from the mortgage lenders. It's just not even worth going down that road.

The point is that I stood there in my doorway, looking at someone's precious son and considered telling him that he isn't worth $14.


Every post that I've written on this blog has been about the same thing.


More specifically, I know nothing. About anything. Including myself.

And, maybe, that's everything anyone needs to know.


I think I've mentioned before that I work for a government agency. Without disclosing too many details, I'll tell you that the agency that I work for is much maligned by the press, elected officials, TV newscasters, and pretty much anyone who's up on current events. We do too much. We don't do enough. We compress dollar bills into emery boards that we use to sharpen our horns and hooves before riding out to tromp all over the American dream.

If I delivered pizzas on behalf of my employer, I think 25% of Americans would grudgingly tip me $1, 25% would have no idea what I was talking about, 25% would tell me to get fucked and slam the door in my face, and 25% would open fire.

Of course, I already said that I know nothing. Maybe none of that would happen. Maybe the ones who slam the door are right. Maybe my colleagues and I are doing more harm than good.

Like I said. I know nothing.


I think I've also mentioned that I live in Pennsylvania, the home of Rick Santorum (aka Rick Santorum), Vince Fumo, and now, the illustrious crew up at Penn State who unleashed this guy on the world.

Let me pause for a moment while I hang my head and emit many forlorn sighs.

I just don't have the words.


Every day we hold those around us in our hearts and judge their worth. The pizza guy. Those good for nothing government employees. The neighbor with his neat-as-a-pin yard.

Maybe you've managed to rise above the urge to judge. If so, kudos. I'd like to subscribe to your newsletter.

Here in Pennsylvania we're deep into the business of judging at the moment. A group of grown men got together and determined that ensuring the welfare of a little boy wasn't worth damaging the 'reputation' of a heralded institution. This apparently happened upwards of 20 times. The fact that a large group of adults managed to put 20 little boys on a scale and determine that they were collectively worth less than one man, just because he happened to be one of their own, is deeply troubling.

Even worse than the fact that it happened is that it's not terribly surprising.

Yet, the newspaper comments sections are full of outrage and declarations. If-I-knew-that-kids-were-being-molested-in-my-workplace/neighborhood/parish/state/country/planet-I'd-do-something.

Having been a child and having worked with children in my former life, I believe that you could walk into any elementary school cafeteria right now, ask the kids which grown-ups are sexual predators, and get a pretty good response rate.

Cast back into your memories of childhood a little bit. I can think of three adults that the other kids would talk about right off the top of my head. All three of them were in prison by the time I reached adulthood.

I could probably go to any major city in the world right now and ask a cab driver to take me to a child prostitute.

Anyone could get this information and take action to protect these kids.

I don't know. Maybe the comments sections of newspaper websites is where all of the upright citizens and child advocates hang out. But, if we're all so shocked and outraged, why aren't we doing more? What are we doing with our time and resources that is so much more important than protecting children from those who want to hurt them?

What am I doing?

How can I do better?


  1. Wow, Tracy, you are in my head. Completely.

    As someone who also works in a much maligned industry right now, who hails from this very same state and who has a spouse whose full-time job it is to curate the online content around this whole mess (comments included) for a large media site, things have been a little overwhelming in our house lately.

    Recent events have set my little town in such a tailspin you can literally hear the buzz of people's brains as they try to process. Mostly because, as you have mentioned, people NEED to think "if it were me, I would have handled it differently." And yes, you would like to think so, but what excellent questions you pose, Tracy - what do I know NOW? What are actions I can take now? Could someone point to ME in the future and ask these same questions about a child in my social circle - what do you mean you didn't know? Why didn't you know? How is it possible you didn't know?

    I think the thing that upsets me most about the case (beyond the alleged acts) is this idea that these are isolated incidents that we can pin to one monster of a man and be done with it. That this is an anomaly. Something that doesn't happen on a daily basis to so many more children (and adults, and people with special needs) than we want to comprehend. Because it hurts to think it. But I am afraid that's not the case.

    So, what am I doing? How can I do better? Thank you for this post, Trac.

  2. It's enough to make your head and heart break, isn't it? I think that's part of what makes this revolting things so horrible: no one wants to imagine they would have done anything the same way. It's easy to sit back and say oh-yes-i-would-have, but . . . I mean, obviously. Yes. But.

    And yes, it's really awful that it is NOT so surprising.

    Meanwhile I'm never letting my children out of the house again, mkay?

    Hope your camping trip was a delight :)

  3. I still remain confused, trying to make sense, strangely drawn to this story, so I follow this cookie trail of media outlets. Who did what? Who knows what? What dominos have to fall to allow a pedophile unfettered access to showers and children when he has a penchant for abusing boys in a shower? Maybe I am making no sense, but in some weird gerbil wheel in my head, I am seeing this connection between Occupy Wall Street, college athletics, Sandusky and the idea of the commodization of everything, including poor, disadvantaged children, as part of an elitist benefit package of entitlement. It is disturbing. Now I am reading an underground whisper campaign that Sandusky was actually a pimping out children to donors. SERIOUSLY? I find the racial and economic undertones in this case so disturbing. I read an interesting piece in the Fix, which is an online magazine about addiction and recovery, where the writer talks about abuse of kids from the organizations set in place to help them, and how hard they make it for abuse to be spotted. I don't know. I want to write something coherent, but my thoughts are jumbled. My daughter came home from school with a pilgrim hat on and I looked at her and said, "You are a Native American, little girl. Not a pilgrim." I made no sense. Sorry.

  4. I mean when he has a penchant for RAPING boy in a shower.

  5. I keep thinking about those emery boards (this is an excellent, serious post - but I couldn't help laughing out loud) and that $14 tip. You are not only only one who would have wanted it back.

    All I know is, when I finally "told" on the predator, the adults in my sphere were much more concerned about {not} making waves than doing what was right. Because the predator's father was a doctor, and so was mine, and it would really be uncomfortable at the hospital if we made a stink so of course it was all dropped.

    This no longer keeps me up nights.

    Knowing my family dynamics from the vantage point of an adult, it makes perfect sense. (Externals matter. Internal realities don't. Now, drop the topic. See? Nothing ever happened.)

    They still wonder why I'll never trust them, and if they don't know, I guess it won't do any good to explain.

    Cathy in Missouri

  6. Thanks all. Apologies for my late response to all of these thoughtful comments.

    @m, I figured that this shitstorm would be swirling all around you and M. I sleep easier at night knowing that thoughtful, together people like yourself are working to bring services and a voice to people who tend to be pushed aside.

    @Mary Beth, I hear you on the never leaving the house thing. As if the fear about abuse and molestation isn't enough. Now we have to worry about getting run over by the massive cover-up locomotive too.

    @still life angie, I think you're right. All of this, the celebration of wealth and greed, the dismissal of fairness. It all comes together somehow. But at the center of it is just the plain facts of a serial criminal raping poor, young boys in a shower. Massive conspiracy or not, whatever happened to common decency. Why can't we just protect all children and all people from harm? Why can't we agree on this?

    As for the pilgrim hat. It hasn't hit our household yet. I grew up feeling somewhat comforted by my family's recent arrival to the US and our tangential (at best) link to the seedy underbelly of history. Alas, the family geneaologists tell me that my daughter is a pilgrim. Now what?

    And, finally, @Groves. What can I say? My heart just breaks for you. Courageous enough to tell your family that you'd been attacked but left to deal with it alone anyway. Hard to say which assault is worse. Your internal reality matters to me. Not that it's enough but I wanted to let you know anyway.

  7. I've been thinking about it more and want to be completely fair (whatever that is).

    My parents really aren't ogres, even though, yes, they failed to protect their kids.

    I can safely say that neither of them ever - EVER - encountered a significant adult who didn't betray them during their own childhoods. Their deep-set, well-worn, damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't pattern is pretend, pretend, pretend...and keep going.

    When it came to my abuse, they kept going.

    I don't think they know how to do anything else.

    It is hard to tell where to stop tracing backwards, because their parents - my grandparents - didn't have any better luck with the adults in *their* lives. How far does this blame game go?

    I've had to settle for a messy, bumpy forgiveness - and trust that is probably busted. Hopefully I can give my kids something more. Hopefully I'm not fooling myself.


    You certainly don't owe this information, but I still wondered: from where in the world did your family recently arrive? If you tell me that English is not your first language, I'm keeling over. Because if you're writing like this - somehow! - in a tongue not native, there really is no justice.

    Which is fine by me, as long as I get to read. :)

    Cathy in Missouri

    P.S. Native - blessed - tongue, possibly "sarcasm?" Those emery boards! Screaming. And the "bat trying to take flight while holding a 65 lb burrito dipped in chocolate and rolled in magnetized iron filings." Damn, woman!