Thursday, December 29, 2016


The rape and murder of Tricia McCauley didn’t make the front page of the paper today, though a large article about the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency appeared on A-1.

Tricia McCauley was killed over the holidays. She was abducted as she made her way to a party, bearing a plate of Brussel sprouts. She was young, white, and well-known throughout the District of Columbia theater scene. I suspect there may have been only two degrees of separation between her and me because I know people in community theater, and they’re a tight-knit bunch. But that’s not the point.scales

Her death was one of many in the Washington area. Most murders and rapes did not get the amount of attention that Tricia’s did because the victims were unknown and deemed unimportant. It appears she was killed by a repeated-offender, a man arrested again and again for lesser but sometimes violent crimes such as theft, assault, and shoplifting. The man was charged, found guilty and released a bunch of times. He habitually violated his probation, and the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, the DC Government entity charged with keeping tabs on him, did not report the probation violation to the enforcing authorities because they feared it would violate his rights.

I’m a liberal and I am beginning to understand fully and painfully Winston Churchill’s reputed quote that, “If you are not a liberal at 25, you have no heart. If you are not a conservative at 35, you have no brain.”

I have a pretty good brain, and what I am, is tired of the level of violence that now seems not only acceptable but somehow forgivable. We shrug our shoulders too often; we forget too quickly, we’re too eager to move on.

Tricia’s accused assailant, according to his own family, was in drastic need of help. He had mental issues, a well-known criminal background, and a total disregard and disrespect for the bureaucrats assigned to help him. He was sentenced by the courts to wear a radio anklet but never bothered to show up and have one fitted. In other words, the authorities released him, trusting a man whom they knew to be a recidivist of the worst order to appear as commanded and meekly accept a device to monitor his whereabouts. What could go wrong?

Plenty, obviously.

I don’t know if in this particular case the accused is guilty of the crimes. The fact is that a huge number of violent people who have been arrested, charged tried and found guilty of blood-curling wrongdoings are released on their own cognizance. The overwhelming majority of them return to being what they are, habitual criminals who prey on the innocent without fear of reprisal. We, as a society, apparently deem this to be acceptable. It is not.

I’m not a lawmaker. I don’t have solutions, but, like most of us, I can spot failure when I see it. The system has failed to protect its most vulnerable—in this case, a young woman of talent—as well as countless members of the elderly, the homeless and dispossessed,  the LGBT community, the physically and mentally challenged, and all those without the resources to fight back.

Here’s the deal. A government that cannot protect its citizens is not a government worth having. It can’t be stated more simply than that.


Tuesday, December 20, 2016


Someone dear to me, a person important in my life, relapsed recently.
Some eight years ago, she was one of those active drinkers who almost lost it all by hitting the bottle daily, often to a blackout. Her ex prevented her from seeing her children. Her friends, after a while, severed relations because it was simply too hard to be with her, to see this sad. slurring clone of who she was, and not know whether she might be herself that day, or under the influence.  Had it not been for a drunk-driving offense that put her in jail, then in rehab, and finally in a sober home for women, she would have died. In fact, all those years when she was drinking, most of us were sure that one day, we’d get a phone call saying she’d passed away. We anticipated an accident, rape or murder, cirrhosis, freezing to death in winter while unconscious in a car, any of the causes of a demise generally related to alcoholism. She didn’t die, and to the joy and amazement of most of us, she slowly rebuilt her life. Her kids came back. She found work. She got healthier. She spent weeks with her parents. She became once again the person she was meant to be.
About a week ago, the relentless logic of alcoholism and addiction returned and won her over. Addiction—and make no mistake, alcoholism is an addiction and not a moral shortcoming, or a matter of willpower—is a strange disorder, perhaps the only disease that tells you that you don’t have a disease. It’s an unfair condition, since the solace of a drink or two is available to normal people but not to the alcoholic. It’s a disease that requires you give everything you have to give, but offers very little in return. It’s a killer. Most of us familiar with alcoholics have gone to many, many premature funerals. We have attempted—and failed—to console families that do not understand how such a difficult and meaningless death could occur.
My friend stayed straight through seven-and-a-half years of good and bad times. I saw her smile and weather difficulties and rejoice in small triumphs. I don’t know what happened to her a couple of days ago, why she very deliberately chose to go to a liquor store and buy several tiny bottles of vodka that she carried with guilt in her purse. She drank them surreptitiously and, I suspect, with very deep shame. I don’t know what pushed her over the edge—anxieties, fears, worries—and it doesn’t really matter. The frightening and amazing thing here is that in spite of knowing the potential consequences of her actions, the almost-certain loss of most things and people she holds dear, she nevertheless opted to take a drink. The better part of her mind, still ill despite years of being straight, decided she might get away with it. Perhaps she thought to have a one-night stand without consequences, but that rarely happens. Relapses don’t really work that way. My friend drank because it was easier to do that than not, or so her ill-fated reasoning went.
Now we wait. Her drinking history provides little confidence. The holidays are bad times for alcoholics, practicing or not, but the truth is that any time of the year, when liquor hits a body that was once dependent on its effects, all bets are off.
She and I spoke this morning. She’s not happy and she swears she has sworn off, but that’s little solace. She did that a hundred, a thousand times before, back when she was using.
I’m hoping that the experience and knowledge gathered from her years of sobriety will prove more powerful than her desire to drink but, honestly and sadly, I’m not holding my breath.

Saturday, December 17, 2016


Good luck, as I understand it, is when opportunity meets preparedness. Bad luck is? I’m not sure, but starting at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, I had my fair share of it.

At 5:30 p.m. on Friday, my car, a 1986 Porsche 944 Turbo that I have maintained and had a crush on for a long time, was rear-ended. I was waiting to exit a mall parking lot when a seventeen-year-young woman driving a Nissan SUV with Alabama plates slammed into my rear bumper and crumpled it, smashing a fender and shattering all brake and back-up lights. My head snapped back into the headrest and I saw stars, or at least very bright little spots of light reminiscent of van Gogh’s Starry Night.

My car looked like Paul Bunyan had hit it with a sledge hammer. Hers didn’t have a scratch.

It was about 24 degrees that night and I’d run to the store for hot peppers to make lomo saltado. I was wearing a thin sweater and a jeans jacket. I was freezing.

In time an ambulance came. The EMT folks took my vitals and asked how I felt. Mostly angry, I told them. They nodded. “Ooh, a Porsche,” said one and nodded sadly. They ran an EKG and found an irregular heartbeat. Did I know about this? No. I’ve had multiple surgeries over the last five years and no one had pointed this out. Did I want to go to the hospital? No. I wanted to go home. My car was drivable and I limped back to the house. I reported the accident to my insurance company and the agent told me he’d take care of everything.

This was an exaggeration; the next day was a comedy of errors. I woke up sore and with a headache. I called the woman’s insurance company to make sure she had reported the accident. There was confusion regarding where the accident had occurred—Falls Church, Virginia, or Falls Church, Alabama? Eventually, I was sent to a rental car place a few miles away. I got there and the door was locked with no one in sight. The phone rang unanswered. The car I had driven there died in their parking lot. A friend with a tow truck had to rescue me. A few more calls to the insurance company elicited apologies. No, they hadn’t known the Hertz office was out of business. Really? REALLY? They suggested another rent-a-car place.

I had invited friends to my house for lunch that day. When I got home, I set up the table, put out the food, and my low-level headache suddenly went nuclear. I also began to feel nauseous, all signs of a concussion.

After lunch, one friend took me to the second car rental office, and from there I drove directly to Arlington Hospital.

I spent a total of five hours there and, after a catscan, was diagnosed with a minor concussion. I was sent home with a 25-page sheaf of medical papers, a couple of prescriptions and a single yellow pill to help me sleep. In time, I slept.

The good part is that the insurance people were helpful, if I disregard the, “if the make of the car you were driving starts with a P, press 7. If it is a white convertible with Firestone tires, press 8. If it has floormats, press 9.” Every time I called, I had to be redirected eight or nine times.  

The other good part is that the concussion is minor.

The bad part is that I never got around to cooking the lomo saltado.