Forgiving John Rigas

Sometimes you discover you’ve locked a few feelings away, and they’ll creep up so that you have to deal with them. This week, news of the release of John Rigas from federal prison stirred up a few of those feelings for me. In 1999, I started working for Adelphia in the Long Distance provisioning department. Remember long distance? It was a service you used to have to pay for by the minute!

My new wife and I had moved back to Potter County after we discovered we were going to have twins, and Adelphia was my first full-time job. When the company declared bankruptcy in 2001, many of us knew that our jobs were doomed. Our department was cut in 2002, and I found myself laid off, and confused. I bounced around for a couple year before finding full-time work again.


To be honest, I hated the job. So losing it was in reality one of the best things that ever happened to me. Despite the fact I’ve looked at the loss of that job as a good thing, over the years, I’ve struggled with how I felt about Adelphia, and the Rigas family.

Part of me has always respect John Rigas for the good things he did for Coudersport while he was at the helm of his empire. If there was a need, he met it. He viewed his wealth as a responsibility to put others to work, and to help those in need. Part of me, though, has been angry for the financial ruin that worked it’s way through the lives of many of my former co-workers and friends in Coudersport and the surrounding communities. I was a little bitter for the two years of struggle my own family endured, while barely able to pay our rent, and living expenses. I watched a vibrant community grow dormant, and I watched people lose their houses, and their careers.

 

Whether or not Mr. Rigas is to blame is hard for me to say. According to the court, he’s guilty of mismanaging his publicly traded company’s wealth, and thus guilty and culpable in the eyes of the law. According to his family, an injustice was done when their father was incarcerated, and when his appeal was struck down. Whether or not he was actually guilty, isn’t up for me to decide, that’s why we have courts to make that declaration.

This summer, I was asked to produce a video for the memorial service of  Doris Rigas, John’s late wife. That video was meant to allow John and Timothy Rigas the opportunity to see the service. For me, it was moving, and as I spend weeks editing the footage, I watched as the Rigas family wept and laughed as they celebrated memories of their matriarch. I watched as they expressed genuine frustration with the justice system as it related to the conviction and incarceration of their loved ones.

This summer, while watching a beautiful memorial service for a woman I barely knew, I was forced to reconcile something. I saw that part of me was bitter. I saw that part of me was holding on to this tiny little sliver of anger. And much like a wooden sliver that gets stuck under the skin, eventually, it has to come out. So I made a choice. Whether or not Mr. Rigas was to blame for the hardship I went through – I had to forgive him.

My forgiveness probably doesn’t matter to anyone. It’s not as though anyone at Adelphia knew that their actions were going to affect me. It’s not as though John Rigas or his family even knew part of me was angry. I just know that it felt awfully good to get that little sliver out.

So, while there are a few out there that see Mr. Rigas’s release as an act of injustice – I can honestly say, I can see it as an act of compassion. And an act of compassion is never a bad decision.

Want to “Make America Great Again?” It starts with making ME great again…

If I pay attention to the news – I’m reminded that if we’re hoping a politician will “save us” or “make America great” – then we’re really missing the point. We are trying to fix moral failures with political solutions.

So – here is my suggestions. If every American does these things – our country will be great again.

1. Hire Local. Shop Local. Buy Local.

(don’t outsource to India. don’t buy from china)

2. Be generous and set aside a portion of your budget to help the needy.

3. Abide by your budget and avoid debt. Also – if you are responsible for the money of others – use it wisely, as if it were your own.

4. Be respectful of people that you disagree with.

5. Protect the weak and stand up for the innocent.

6. Teach your children right from wrong.

7. Show respect for people who are doing jobs you aren’t willing to do. This includes fruit picking migrants, police officers, the military, and ER nurses.

8. Don’t use illegal substances. Don’t make them. Don’t buy them. Don’t sell them.

We can try to legislate ways to make America great. We can try to build walls to keep foreigners out. We can try to tax the rich. We can try to carpet-bomb our enemies. We can try any number of things, but ultimately – until we start taking the personal responsibility to live ethically, morally, then we are just contributing to our great American bankruptcy.

I don’t know about you – but I will strive to do right.

New Story Picked up by Associated Press

I wrote a story for the Bradford Era about my friend Brian Mahaney of Forged Spirit Garage, and it was picked up by the Associated Press, and distributed to newspapers and media outlets globally! Featured in papers in Erie, Houston, Seattle, Pittsburgh, Philly, Washington,

You can read the original article here:

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When Brian Mahaney started riding his Harley, he experienced a sense of freedom and adventure — but realized that many others wouldn’t have that.

“I got thinking about those in wheechairs, disabled vets, and others who wouldn’t get to feel the road this way,” said Mahaney, who took that thought, and put some wheels on it.
Mahaney and his wife, Michelle, started “Forged Spirit Garage” this past summer with the intent to develop a wheelchair accessible sidecar, which offers what he calls “two-wheel therapy.” “Getting out on the bike is amazing. You feel the wind, and the road, and you don’t think of anything. It’s a great way to clear your mind, and you aren’t thinking about the bills, the stress or the worry or anything but being on the road,” explained Mahaney.
Wheelchair accessible sidecars and trikes aren’t a new thing, but Mahaney explained the Forged Spirit sidecar is different than existing wheelchair options. Most sidecars that allow a wheelchair rider to board are boxy and enclosed, and it doesn’t feel the same as riding a motorcycle.

“Some people with wheelchairs will ride trikes, but if they take that trike on a dice run, they have to leave their wheelchair behind. So if they want to get off the trike and go into a barbecue joint, they can’t do that,” said Mahaney. “Their wheelchair is where they live their life — it’s their transportation when they aren’t on the bike — and if they can’t have it with them, it really is limiting. With this, they can do what any other able bodied rider can do — they can ride the bike somewhere, and then get off and go in and eat, or whatever, and then get back on the bike and go home.”
Mahaney explained that his sidecar, which is a simple steel platform, attached with a swivel arm, a third wheel, and an air suspension kit, allows the wheelchair to pull on to the bike, and ride as a passenger, or if able, to transfer to the bike to drive it themselves.
Each sidecar is customizable. He said that it can just be a platform, or it can be made to match the style of the bike, with custom fenders, or any other accessories that would go on a Harley, including handlebars, fairings, etc.

“It really gives the sidecar the look and feel of a riding the motorcycle. So that a disabled person can get the same experience on the bike. It doesn’t look like an add-on, it looks like it was built by the manufacturer of the bike.”
Mahaney said that his prototype is getting some attention. He took it to the L.E.E.K. Hunting Preserve in Oswayo this summer for an event.

“They do such a great job with their track chairs, allowing disabled vets to hunt,” said Mahaney. “So when we were there, a lot of people saw our sidecar, and really seemed to understand what we were doing, and were very supportive.”

He also took the sidecar to Rally in the Valley this summer, and met a man who sold his bike when his disabled daughter was born.

“He loved riding, and told me that he would love to be able to have something like this,” Mahaney said. “She was able to pull her wheelchair on the bike, and her face lit up! Her mom started crying, because they loved the idea of being able to take their daughter on a ride with them.”
Mahaney said the initial idea came while thinking about disabled vets, who suffer from PTSD. Since riding his bike gave him a bit of “two-wheel therapy,” it didn’t seem right that vets, or anyone else for that matter, didn’t have the access to motorcycles that he had.

“I’d really like to be putting them into the hands of everyone that wants one. That’s what this is all about, helping people that want to ride, so they can have that same feeling on the road,” said Mahaney.
Now that the prototype is built, Mahaney is in the marketing and development stage, and he’s funding his project by doing automotive repair and fabrication at the garage.

“I can fix and build pretty much anything, so I’ll do that as much as I need to, so that we can get this project off the ground,” Mahaney said.
Forged Spirit Garage is located in the Bradford Office of Economic and Community Development incubator facility on Russell Boulevard, and Mahaney is using his space to repair cars, trucks, small engines, and light fabrication work, while developing his wheelchair sidecar.

Journals of a man divided – #poetrythursday

journalsofamandividedThis is a poem I wrote probably around 1997. It’s a series of short poems entitled “Journals Of A Man Divided” – and each poem is based on one of the words in the title.

Some people look back on their college poetry and get depressed or embarrassed. I’m not ashamed of mine, to be honest. I was a young and raw poet then – today I’m an older and rustier poet.

 

 

Journals

Amid stacks and piles,
three miles sratospherically,
a word and a pen
scratch along paper
and create a
mystic dream
with tigers and cherubim
trees and skyscrapers
fog and stars…
wirebound worlds,
visions of unseen…
love unsaid…
and
journals of every
moment that has
passed before
a poet’s painted eye.

Of

mice live simple,
in theivery
and flight…
Atiny heart pumping
a hundred quiet beats
for every one of your own
quickly
sprints his way across
across
scratched linoleum,
under a heavily treaded rug,
to a hole
neatly gnawed through
a most invisible corner.
Mice… a lot like man.

A

keep it precise…
You keep getting too wordy,
trying to articulate what can be said without all the words you use
to describe every little detail not noticed by the naked eye.
You speak in circles and never stop going around the bush-beaten path you’ve
trodden down.
Get to the point.
Get to a point.

Man
Simple.
Honest.
Wise.
Hard to understand,
things that make sense.

Suspended.
Lifted.
Hung.
Higher than our heads,
yet lower than heaven.

Bleeding.
Fleshless.
dead.
Mortal in our eyes,
yet still to resurrect.

Eternal.
Loving.
God.
Man just for a moment,
to hold our very hearts.

Divided.

Deleted from the sweet freckled face, a smile hides in
my pocket.
Hides next to my pencil, and bubble gum, and it clings to my keys.
Sometimes i smile…
sometimes i don’t
so i won’t say i am not divided..

Coyote Hunting With Frankie Bruzzi – Part 4 – #MyStoryMonday

I’m convinced that coyote hunting isn’t about killing coyote, but about the rush of fear and adrenaline! Click here to read Part 3 – Where Frank and I are frozen in fear, hearing the sound of a large creature crashing through the woods, not twenty feet away!

“Don’t move – it’s a bear!” whispered Frank.
“What? Where? Should I shoot it?” I half-whispered/half-screamed back.
“SHHH!”

And then the sound was headed back down the road we had hiked up – and it was gone.

We stood tense, guns drawn, safety off, and breathing air slowly and quietly for a few more minutes – before making a move.

Frank’s best guess was that the bear had been in a tree, hiding from us, and a branch had broken, which made the crash sound, followed by the startled bear (which usually move much more quietly) rushing through the leaves and tall weeds was the rustling we heard as he tried to get as far away from us as possible. The coyotes didn’t want to be near a bear, which is why they didn’t follow us to the top of the hill.

Black bear are nothing to trifle with. They don’t usually attack humans, but a frightened bear, a hungry bear, or a bear protecting it’s young will make quick work of man.

Frank and I then had to make our way back down the mountain – we had decided that the hunt was off – and we were going to make as much noise as possible – so that the bear would keep his distance, as we followed his path back out of the woods.


Coyote Hunting With Frankie Bruzzi – Part 3 #MyStoryMonday

I’m convinced that coyote hunting isn’t about killing coyote, but about the rush of fear and adrenaline! Click here to read Part 2 – where the coyotes start to circle us in the dark!

After about an hour of hiking up the dark logging road, we got settled in to a clearing of ferns on top of the hill. We hadn’t heard or seen any sign of the coyotes for a few minutes – which seemed odd, since they had been so close to us earlier. Frank pulled out a survival candle/lantern gadget that he was quite proud to show off, and we sat back to back with our shotguns loaded, and pointed off into the darkness.

He fired up the dying rabbit call again – and offered up a few yips on his coyote call – simulating the scuffle of a coyote attacking his prey. And we heard coyotes answer – this time – back up in the hollows of the surrounding hills. The predators that were so close to just ten minutes ago were spread back out in the forest. No matter how hard we tried, we could seem to call them closer. Frank recommended a little silence to see if we could try again.

As soon as we got quiet, there was a crash, rustle, crash, crash, rustle not twenty feet to the south of us. We spun our guns around, and Frank hit his light. Of course – I couldn’t see anything – but I could feel every muscle in my body tighten like rocks, trying to figure out what kind of monster was going to attack.

Coyote Hunting with Frankie Bruzzi – Part 2 #MyStoryMonday

I’m convinced that coyote hunting isn’t about killing coyote, but about the rush of fear and adrenaline! Click here to read Part 1 – where Frank Bruzzi and I had started up the mountain – with my complete lack of night vision.

Frank  had a portable loudspeaker, and was playing a tape that contained the eerie sounds of a wounded rabbit. That sound – a high pitched painful squeal was creepy – and being in the dark, knowing that it was attracting an entire pack of predators made it even more creepy.

 

Within minutes, we heard coyotes calling to each other on the distant hilltops – with a yip yip yowl and then another few minutes later – and we could hear the pack as they circled us.
Frank’s  head mounted flashlight had a red filter – that barely lit things up, we couldn’t see more than twelve or fifteen feet away from us. Of course, those coyotes came in close – just close enough that we could hear their panting and padding, as they circled us as we walked up the hill. We saw some occasional eye-flash as the red light hit their eyes, but for the most part, we could only hear them.  I was pretty frightened! I clenched Frank’s coat and held my breath as we trudged up the logging road. He was enjoying it, I was scared to death.

To be Continued!

Coyote Hunting with Frank Bruzzi – PART 1 – #MyStoryMonday

As I look back on my high school days, I remember many great memories with many great friends. But for some reason, the adventures I had with Frankie Bruzzi are the ones that make the best stories.

 

I am convinced that one doesn’t got coyote hunting to kill coyotes. But rather, one goes coyote hunting to get the living feces scared out of him.

 

It was dark, and late. My friend Frankie Bruzzi showed up at the door, and said, “Get your gun, we’re going coyote hunting.”

 

Mom and dad nodded in approval, and despite the fact that we were unaccompanied by an adult, we hopped in Frank’s car and took off, guns loaded, and ready to kill us a wild pesky canine.

 

Keep in mind, that due to some genetic malformation, my pupils don’t dialate. They stay pinpont all the time, which means I have no night vision. It’s a long and sordid tale of syphilis, several generations ago, and the strange way that it has altered the genetic receptors that control pupil dilation.  It has baffled many eye doctors, as it appears in very random places in the family. Great Grandma’s sordid past surely makes for some interesting tales at the ophthalmologist’s office.

 

So, up on the mountain we go. I’m holding Frank’s shoulder’s like an awkward prom date trying to dance from behind, as we hit the dark logging road, lit only by Frank’s red headlight.


To be Continued!

Poor Boy Rich Kid – #PoetryThursday

I write this poem back in 1996. Not about anyone in particular… but I found it in a stash of old files, and I think my old college poetry is kind of cool to stumble across!

Your folks have been keeping up with the Jones’s so long
You thought they’d never die:
Collecting a backyard full of motorhomes,
Televisions, and
GAP jeans.
They don’t understand your scowl,
ripped shirt, side-burned…
Daddy’s deep pockets buy you
cigarettes and caffeine,
so you can long strung-out sucked-in-cheeks.
Poor boy rich kid,
skinny by choice,
fat daddy fat wallet
filet mignon
you whine for canned beef stew.
Legal boxers
slug in a civil oak ring
to support your shifty-eyed
smile.

 

Fining Lawbreakers? Or are Speed Traps about making money for someone else?

A few years ago, I got pulled over in Limestone. Actually – BEFORE the infamous “Speed Trap” that everyone talks about.

I had just exited the expressway, and was on 219, traveling slower than the flow of traffic. I know I was speeding. So I’ll ADMIT that I know I was speeding. Here’s the deal. With the angle of the sun, I couldn’t see the numbers really well, but I could see my needle. I’m guessing I was going over 60 and under 65 in a 55 mile an hour zone, with cars ahead of me going faster, and a car passing me on the left.

As I drove, I saw a Sheriff’s deputy turning from the other side of the highway, and immediately stepped on my brakes as a reaction. As I looked down, I saw my speed drop to 55.  When I stepped on my brakes, he was still traveling northbound.

The police officer pulled in behind me, passing two other southbound cars to do so – and pulled me over.

He told me I was going 71.
I respectfully disagreed, and told him that I would be protesting it in court.

So I had to reschedule my first hearing, and showed up a couple months later. I was the first person in the door, and was told they usually see people in a first come/first served order.

And yet, I watched and listened as about 30 people were called ahead of me. A couple people were cited for commercial violations. Another was cited for driving 55 in the 40.

But the overwhelming majority of the folks were asked to approach, where the judge talked as quiet as he could – but loud enough that we all heard him. Many of the defendants said, “I know I was speeding, but I wasn’t going 71 miles per hour.”

The judge then cited them with “failure to obey a traffic sign” and charged them each $100.

Meanwhile, the officer who wrote my ticket comes in, and I hear him say to the clerk (again, attempting to be discreet) “Thanks for calling me. Man, I forgot all about this!”

The way I understand it – if a police officer doesn’t show up for a hearing – the ticket is thrown out. But – instead of letting that scenario play itself out – they made me wait till the end of the evening, and they called the officer in from home to prosecute me.

He pulled me aside for a “pre-trial conference” and I again affirmed, that I was speeding, but I wasn’t going the speed he said that I was. He offered to lessen the charge to “failure to obey a traffic sign” – a charge with which I was admittedly guilty – and then I went in and saw the judge who lowered my fine to $100.

There were dozens of others that day – all CONTESTING a 71 mile an hour ticket – who were all given a $100 fine and a lesser charge.

I have also never seen an accident on the stretch of road from the stateline to Route 86. Ever. A flat tire once. Lots of traffic tickets being written. Some crazy guy driving a nice sedan down on the railroad tracks. But I’ve NEVER seen an accident on that stretch of road.

The question I have about Limestone / Carrollton is this:

Is this area so heavily enforced, with poorly marked signage, solely to raise funds? Do the police frequent here at the request of state/county/local lawmakers? Is the problem with speed, or with poor signage? Or is the problem that someone is TRYING to make their budgets out of speed enforcement?

I think that safety is important. Certainly, if the state can prove that the area needs reduced speed to keep the safety, I’m all for that. But my guess is – this area has been proven to be a source of speeding ticket income, and so it’s been intentionally given poor signage, and thuggish enforcement.