If You Ask Me Archive


My daughter spent her senior year at PAHS (aka PAJSHS, Port Allegany Junior-Senior High School, the official name of the institution). She also was helping with the family business and working in some local establishments. So she didn’t have a lot of time to mingle with other students in co-curricular activities.

Her main memories of those school days seem to be of a particular science course and the vocal music program.

The science course was Survival. She learned a lot about the terrain around here, the fields and forests and streams, and about living in harmony with our environment and surviving out there in case she might become lost or stranded sometime.

My recollection is that passing or failing the course rested in good part on a test that consisted of going out in pairs, as buddies, on a survival trek that would last all day. Challenges would include some climbing and some fording and some rappelling and a foraging meal and pathfinding and I don’t know what all else.

Earlier in the course those separate skills had been presented and practiced. The big hike was quite an event, though.

The young man who was Joi’s trek buddy decided on a shortcut, probably in the forenoon. Maybe he and some friends had planned a rendezvous and other fun elsewhere. Joi wanted to do the trek for real, so she continued without a buddy.

The shortcut group had planned to show up at the proper report-in spot by the appointed time, and my recollection is that all of them did except for Joi’s trek buddy. She came home very worried. Then she went back to wait to see if the guy showed up. It seemed that he was lost. She was for going out to find him.

Mr. McCormick said that was his job, and he went out and found the wanderer, who was surviving just fine, just not when and where he was supposed to be practicing that most necessary of sciences. Once they got back, Mr. McCormick called to tell Joi to quit worrying.

Later Joi and her husband Dany joined Port Allegany Ambulance Service. “Doc” McCormick was the instructor from whom they learned their EMT skills. He coached them tirelessly and they passed the exam and became part of the rotation, along with others who took the class. They respected Doc’s knowledge and his teaching skills enormously.

When Joi and another EMT came back from their first “fatal,” the call in which they transported R.V. Hall after a massive coronary, “Doc” helped them through the emotional aftermath.

Years later, when she and Dany lived in California and had been here for a visit, Dany would encounter “Doc” on another ambulance run. This time Dany was the patient. He was transported as far as Port Allegany Community Hospital, after having collided head-first with the hook of a stationary Grade-all when he was bucked off the motorcycle he had just bought that day. He’d have been split from top to bottom, I imagine, had he not been wearing a helmet.

As it was Dany did suffer severe head injuries, and a broken jaw and facial lacerations and some cracked vertebrae. Things were so touch-and-go it was not safe to move him to Hamot, so a local doctor and a neurologist-neurosurgeon were in touch all night and the next day, monitoring Dany together by means of telemetry.

Doc’s accurate primary survey and the measures taken at the accident scene and during transport were credited by the doctors with saving Dany’s life long enough to get him to the hospital and additional interventions.

The photography mini-course was another of Mr. McCormick’s creative and practical science offerings. I remember seeing some of the students who were not generally thrilled with school getting into the science and art of photography with real excitement. Somehow gear had been rounded up. Portfolios were being built.

Later one of those students parleyed his training into a part-time job at our favorite Port Allegany newspaper. Perhaps others used their photography skills in their work; I don’t know. But I daresay photography would be as important to most, in their adult lives, as music or art training would—or some of the other sciences!

At a school board meeting in the “old” library at the high school, this reporter watched a majority of the school board “support the superintendent” (a duty that was often emphasized as being their most important one) in sticking to the across-the-board prohibition of any more “technology” purchases without the superintendent’s blessing.

Mr. McCormick pleaded for an exception, a $49 software program to provide enhancement to the instructional program in one of his courses. There would be no net cost to the district, under a grant or special arrangement—I forget the details.

When the board wavered because of the special circumstances, the then-superintendent bullied them. Something about starting to make exceptions, opening the floodgates, whatever.  majority of those present knuckled under.

That the teacher came hat in hand to the board with its collective lack of wisdom, and in spite of the truculence of that superintendent, was one more demonstration of the teacher’s determination to do whatever it would take, whatever would work, for the good of the students.

The same attitude has kept the Port Allegany Online website up and running all these years. Long after moving to the Ozarks, Doc has provided the wherewithal and the time and skill. A couple years back he began talking of needing to hang it up, wanting to be able to travel more, years back. But he would not do so until he could be sure he was leaving PAO in good hands.

Those are the hands of Brandon Abbott—hail Brandon! (If we don’t get an intro from you, I’ll be forced to write “those stories”…) But in this column, I want to thank Terry “Doc” McCormick for so very much he has given to so very many. Not farewell, please, just thanks and Vaya con Dios.


Guardian. Someone who protects.

Children need permission from a parent or guardian, to take part in field trips or other activities. Health care providers need the authorization of a parent or guardian in order to treat a patient who is a minor.

Those are situations that come to mind when we think of guardians. But there are guardians of adults, too. And sometimes there are children who are guardians of parents.

I don’t mean that minors can be guardians of parents, only that “adult children” can encounter situations in which their elderly or inform parents are in need of that kind of help. It’s a role reversal that is becoming more common than it used to be, what with life spans being greater.

“We need a guardianship bill!” was a mantra I heard at gatherings of the New York State Association for Retarded Children, Inc., decades ago. When first I heard that statement I didn’t know what it was about. But soon someone explained it to me.

NYSARC included numerous people who were highly qualified to explain guardianship and other legal issues. The one who laid it out for me was Augustus M. Jacobs, a courtly gentleman indeed. His specific court was the New York State Supreme Court, First District (Manhattan). He was one of the founders, in 1949, of the first organization of its kind, the Association for the Help of Retarded Children. I have his AHRC lapel pin.

The guardianships NYSARC was talking about were those in which persons with mental retardation would reach the age of majority but would not be able to handle all the responsibilities that come with adulthood. Their parents wanted to be able to continue to protect and guide them—to act as their guardians.

Most such parents expected that they would predecease their offspring. Some conditions causing mental retardation also included other health challenges which tended to shorten life spans, but even so, parents realized there probably would come a time when they would not be around, or able, to carry out their guardianship functions.

Often standby guardians were named. For mentally retarded adults, usually a parent or parents were named guardian/s, and often a sibling was appointed standby guardian. There could be other standby or contingency arrangements made, too. A local chapter of NYSARC would be one possible choice. The reasoning was that such an entity would have a longer “lifetime” than an individual. Chapters and NYSARC itself had guardianship committees; I served on several.

Then there are the guardian arrangements in which adult children assume responsibility for parents. Most of us know some of those guardians and their parents.

This isn’t the same as being “attorney-in-fact” or having the responsibility of power of attorney. That role is one in which the grantor voluntarily and knowingly gives the POA that authority, so that the POA can act for the grantor as needed, or maybe regularly. Typical duties and powers would be handling money and other assets, paying bills, selling property and making living arrangements.

Ordinarily the grantor can revoke or change power of attorney arrangements at will. Also, the grantor is still free to make decisions too, to pay bills and sign checks and buy things.

Guardianship arrangements may not always be voluntary on the part of the person being “guarded.” Sometimes that individual is too impaired in mental function to participate in the decision. Courts grant those non-voluntary guardianship arrangements based on a showing that the individual is incompetent. The court must find the proposed guardian to be suitable. Usually the person petitioning the court to appoint a guardian for someone is also proposing to be that guardian; but sometimes the petition asks the court to appoint another person or entity.

Would you be surprised if I told you some guardians of adults are untrustworthy? Probably not. There have been high profile cases in the news, where the rich and famous were victimized, usually by those close to them, through abuse of guardianship prerogatives.

There’s an organization devoted to helping those victimized by guardianship abuse, and to seeking legislation and court rulings that will help prevent such abuse. National Association to Stop Guardian Abuse has a website you can Google for.

Some of NASGA’s activists were in McKean County recently to monitor court proceedings related to the guardianship of Rita Denmark, a Bradford widow her daughter alleges to have been virtually abducted to Florida and wrongfully placed under guardianship there and then placed in a secure care facility and her assets made off with.

Sad. Worrisome. The court may rule on some aspects of that case later this week.


So many dramas are set in court houses. Some of the action is in a court room, some in judges’ chambers, some in corridors and in conference rooms, some on the steps or sidewalk outside.

TV and movies use court house settings a lot. We see hearings and trials, Law and Order stuff, to the point that we know the drill and the lingo.

We might get the impression, from the court events we see on TV, that court room drama is all about crimes. Some of it is, but by no means all.

Civil matters carry their share of angst, tension, dread, regret, foreboding, shame, suspense, guilt, embarrassment, resentment and anger.

There are victims, in civil court matters. Some are very young indeed, tiny babies. Some are old  enough to be quite aware of what is happening, and to feel as if they are parties, even though they are more like the objects of the wrangling going on around them.

Some victims are much older—so old that they are deemed incapable of handling their own affairs as those little babies. Some of those elderly victims are assumed to be as incapable as infants of tender years, when it comes to knowing what is in their best interests. Some of the aged victims, or objects of wrangling, have substantial assets. Some of them had, until others stepped in to manage the affairs of the old dears. Sometimes it seems nothing makes relatives more concerned for the best interests of aged kin than excess assets.

Recently when I had occasion to spend some time “upstairs” in the Court House, I caught glimpses of the relationship tangles that we like to think courts help unravel. But what an arcane, awkward, torturous and inadequate process it is!

There was a very young man, appearing to be just barely an adult as opposed to a juvenile. When he arrived he was carrying a sort of basket which turned out to be a baby carrier. Inside was a tiny morsel of humanity.

He told me her birth date, about a month ago. He cared for her tenderly, and appeared to be practiced in this. He confided that he has another daughter, a toddler.

I did not ask what brought him and his baby to court. Soon he was joined by some older adults, who exhibited lots of interest in and fondness for the baby. I offered to adopt her if she should become available, and all were adamant that this would not happen. The adorable baby did give me a careful looking over, but she did not indicate that she would like to leave her present caregivers.

Not that she would have much to say about it, or any other matter concerning her care, custody and support, under circumstances where grownups cannot agree or collaborate concerning her wellbeing and how she is raised.

Nearby a man waited for his attorney, who spoke with him a few seconds and then left on some errand or other, promising to be back shortly. The client seemed at once indignant, disconsolate and resigned.

He had plenty of opinions about the system, and a conviction that it is wrongheaded at best, wicked at worst.

He doesn’t believe in divorce, yet someone was divorcing him. He does not believe the system should let her out of her vows.

I thought of the Biblical explanation concerning why the Hebrew nation was given a mechanism for dealing with marriage covenants gone awry—and how this was later said to be because of the hardness of human hearts. Yes, there it is, in a nutshell. But our system of law has no remedy for that—only very poor ways to try to minimize the damage.

Collateral damage results from shattered relationships between parents of minor children. Just how extensive this can be, and how protracted the process of containing it can become, given the intransigence of one party or both, was demonstrated in another vignette.

Parents were within a few feet of each other, too estranged to make eye contact. Their children were kept closely controlled by one parent, and seemed to be making a great effort to follow a drill they had learned. Do not look at him, and do not look at that “other” grandmother.

Yet they stole shy glances at her, as she gazed longingly at them. Like the father, she has long been prevented from having any meaningful contact with those children. Her son has had an order that says he gets to see his kids, but he has been unable to get “enforcement.” What a word to use for “parenting” or “time to be with my kids.”

The truth is that, with all the improvements in custody law, some judges haven’t caught on, and some lawyers are less than diligent, and the process is terribly slow and not good at sorting things out.

A two-year hiatus in seeing a parent creates what is called parental alienation: serious damage to an important relationship. That this is heartbreaking for the parent is obvious. But what is worse is the emotional damage inflicted on the child. Too often, enmity spoken or telegraphed by the “parent in possession” is another devastating alienation weapon.

Children are entitled to know and spend time with their parents—even if the parents can’t or won’t be together. It is in the best interests of a child to know his/her parents, both or each, and to spend time with those parents, both or each. We’re not talking about dangerous felons who have produced offspring, but about regular folks, with their flaws and their virtues, who have children.

I hope the month-old mite of a girl will not be used as a weapon, nor a shuttlecock or spoil of war. If the system performs as badly in her case as in so many others, she could be back in this waiting area outside a courtroom, while adults continue their heart-hardness, over and over, year after year.


If only things were so simple!

Complexities are a bane. Something in us yearns for simplicity. But most of us realize that many things can’t be as simple as we would like them to be.

We wish that all cases were “open and shut.” We wish there were no ambiguities, and all evidence were clear-cut, and all moral decisions were easy, and all laws were easily read and understood and applied.

But life is complicated. People are complex. Relationships and circumstances create infinitely varied combinations. One size does not fit all.

One anguished man whom I conversed with in a Court House waiting area stated that only statutes should be given any weight, and case law should not exist. Possibly he does not fully understand the operation of case law. That law changes, or evolves, and should reflect the accumulation of the community’s experience with the application of a given measure, makes no sense to him. When the statute(s) that apply in a given case could not cover all the different sets of facts and circumstances where the statute would be applied may not be clear to him. That the repeated application of a statute brings forth needs for clarification is clear enough. Should we all have to wait for the legislature to revise the statute, with its well known deliberate speed?

We have the benefit of experience—our own, that of others. We learn from it. Law benefits from it.

A lettitor (letter to the editor) that was in another paper lately expressed the writer’s absolute conviction that all we need is the Constitution. As it happens, this is a common assertion of some who identify themselves as Tea Party movement members. We should just follow the Constitution, but not interpret it. The very idea of interpreting it is blasphemous.

Reverence for the Constitution is an element of this political religion. The Constitution is said to be sacred, and to be persecuted, and to have been crucified, or to have been slain, or driven into exile.

“We need to abolish all the laws that have grown up around the Constitution so we can’t even see it anymore,” someone declared at a rally.

I want to yell back, “Get a grip, people! Do you know how and why they hammered out the Constitution? Why did the Founders even include an amendment process, or provide for a legislative branch?” But Constitution radicals are not in a listening or a thinking mood; they are just venting.

“It’s all about [some vastly oversimplified description of an issue],” candidates or proponents of some position proclaim. “It’s all about taxes,” states one. “It’s all about special interests,” asserts another. But it isn’t ALL about any one thing. It’s about many things.

Every so often someone gets all excited about the supposed right to put the Ten Commandments on a government building or on a court house wall or other public place.

The people insisting that prominent, public property Decalogue display must be allowed self-identify as Christians, the very people who should understand that the law of the Mosaic Covenant was subsumed by the two-fold commandment of the New Covenant (or New Testament).

Interestingly enough, these displays of the Ten Commandments usually feature two slabs looking like primitive grave markers, each with five commandments incised, identified with Roman Numerals, in English, reading from left to right. Oy vey, how authentically Biblical is that!

“Just follow the Ten Commandments—they are simple enough, and they need no explanation,” a religious demagogue was quoted as saying, a few weeks ago. Surely a devout Jew, you say? Not at all. A Christian, he claims; also, a prophet, according to another claim.

Curiously enough, the Biblical account of the giving of the Ten Commandments is followed by an account of other laws being proclaimed. Lots of them. And more followed, through the ages.

There were all sorts of instructions for the priestly tribe, and a book of Leviticus with lots of special laws about food and clothing and cleanliness and rituals and morals. There’s another whole book called The Second Law, or Deuteronomy. According to the Bible, those succinct ten commandments may have been in stone, but they were not enough.

Nothing suggests that the Ten Commandments were intended to govern all people in all times. But I will say, if all of us followed them all the time, none of the societal ills that have given rise to the rest of the laws would be needed. There would be no war. In fact, if we all kept the Christian “laws of love,” there would be no need for other laws. If all people including atheists abided by unconditional neighbor-love principles, we would be able to dispense with courts and military systems and maybe with government. The problem is that we can’t conquer our vices, or our human frailties, well enough.

The language of the Constitution itself does not suggest that it is the all-sufficient body of law which should be used to govern the nation. In fact, it is clear from the document itself that it was to be a living document, and that the system of government it defines was expected to grow and adapt to changing times and a growing nation.

It’s sad but true that seldom is justice simple, and government is complicated.


Writing on Halloween Day and two days before Election 2010, I look back over Halloweens and elections I have known. How different they are now! For that matter, how different they were then!

Not so long ago, Halloween was a children’s festival. Elementary school children’s art projects were accomplished with construction paper, scissors and crayons. Sometimes pupils wore costumes to school. Moms sent treats—candy corn, cookies with orange icing.

Sometimes the PTA sponsored a party, usually it was during the school day. There would be costumes and bobbing for apples and treats. Most costumes seemed to be versions of witches, goblins or ghosts, or maybe animals.

There were jack-o-lanterns on display at many homes: real pumpkins, many home grown, carefully chosen for size and shape, hand carved, with candles inside.

Older relatives reminisced about their youthful high jinks involving upsetting privies and chicken coops and dumping manure on the principal’s lawn. These recollections seemed to bring the tellers a certain satisfaction, but they would state that they’d better not hear of any of their kids or grandkids doing such things.

Teachers might read some spooky stories, such as “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” or something by Poe.

Young children would dress in “disguises” and would be taken to see relatives, friends and neighbors, who would profess not to recognize them and would insist on unmasking them, and would then offer treats.

When I was in junior high we were taken downtown an afternoon or two to create temporary masterpieces on the store windows. We decorated them on the outside, using tempera. I think it was mixed with glass wax. Businesses got together to put up prizes for most original, most artistic, etc. That way the windows did not get decorated in less desirable ways, not colorfully but with wax.

Scraping wax off windows was a pain. Even worse was getting it out of screens.

Waxing business and house windows and cars was a favorite Halloween prank of kids a generation ago. Sometimes soap was used instead, and that mischief was more easily eradicated.

For a time it seemed that throwing toilet paper into trees was considered extremely entertaining. I haven’t heard of that being done lately.

The idea behind trick-or-treat was that people would treat the children, usually costumed, who came to homes and presented the proposition. Some of the older kids presented the extortion more threateningly: “Treat, or trick!”

Trick or treat for UNICEF was encouraged by schools and PTAs for some years. The idea was that kids would give up their own trick-or-treating and instead would collect change to help the United Nations-related agency which, in turn, would help children in Third World countries.

Then it stopped being an instead-of activity, and children collected for UNICEF one night, for themselves another. Or they collected for both at once.

I’m guessing it was 15 years or so ago that adults began to get into Halloween in a big way. They would get elaborate costumes, and give or attend lavish parties or make the rounds of clubs and bars to party.

The Halloween parades that used to feature many floats, made by classes and clubs, competing for prizes, have gone by the boards. Maybe kids aren’t interested in making floats; or maybe adults are too busy to help with those activities. The costume parade and Moose Family Center party do provide fun after trick-or-treating, though.

Elections bring some relief in the form of the end to another tiresome and irritating campaign season. This year campaigns were even less enlightening and uglier than ever. Talk about disguises and tricks! What could be more grotesque than some of the distortions of positions and records foisted off on us?

Campaigns have changed even more than Halloween customs. They are all about fundraising, e-mail and social networking campaigns aimed at raising money with which to pay for more advertising and polling and telephoning. There is little actual information being disseminated about candidates and issues—and this is the Information Age!


Nostalgia! Déjà vu. Hindsight. Thoughts of the good old days, yearning for yesteryear. Wondering “Where are they now?” as we recall pals from way back when.

In an area daily I read of people’s recollections, as submitted to the editor who presents a front page column every day. They talk about businesses, the old peddler, buildings and events and customs from a generation or two or three ago. They also talk of current happenings, oddities, wildlife sightings.

Recently a Port Allegany area native shared some of his recollections there, and a certain angst. He lamented that Port Allegany has lost many landmarks, and spoke of rumors concerning one of those losses.

I have to disagree with some assertions made by my illustrious relative and distinguished Port Allegany expat in his recent contribution to that column in the area daily.

Yes, some of us regret that we no longer have a primary care hospital in Port Allegany. But the current use of the former hospital building can scarcely be summed up as a treatment center for “druggies.”

That’s not a term I would use to characterize the persons who are at Maple Manor for prescribed periods of residential treatment of their alcohol and drug abuse disorders. It seems to me to be on a par with terms most of us would not apply to persons with learning disabilities, or persons with non-standard sexual preference, or African-Americans or Jews or Italians or Hispanics or…

How did Maple Manor come to be in Port Allegany? CEMP (Cameron-Elk-McKean-Potter) Alcohol and Drug Services offices used to be upstairs in the old theater building, in the early-to-mid 1970s. A few years later the roof leaked and the agency needed more space. The offices were relocated to the former Coudersport Hospital building, where the residential treatment component, Maple Manor, occupied a number of rooms in that facility. I was there every Thursday for months, setting up a filing system. There might have been one computer in there somewhere, but patient files were paper only.

The location was why it was called Maple Manor—Maple Avenue. CEMP became CEM when Potter County dropped out of the joinder. Maple Manor came to Port Allegany and occupied a wing of what had been Port Allegany Community Hospital; the former hospital was converted yet again, this time to an assisted living place.

Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services (ADAS) now operates Maple Manor. ADAS is a nonprofit corporation and contracts with a number of government entities and school systems to provide its services.

Persons with alcohol and other drug dependencies who are receiving treatment at Maple Manor can be said to be “recovering.” The hope is that they can continue in recovery mode, clean and sober, after they have completed their time in the Manor. Some will make it, some will not. I know a good many Maple Manor alums who have, and some who have lost their sobriety. Their chances were much improved by the support they received at the Manor, and by out-patient counseling and continued participation in AA and NA.

Another mention was made of “druggies,” in the reminiscences the aforementioned former Port Alleganian shared in that area daily front page column. He said that rumor had it that druggies burned down the Wrights Round Barn.

The story of that fire is a sad one, and it includes some ironies, but I do not believe there exists a scrap of evidence that “druggies” caused the blaze. I did not hear such a rumor then, nor have I since.

As for the former hospital building, as we know, it houses physicians’ offices, other health services and a fitness center. (If any of the patients are overweight, would the former area resident refer to them as fatties? If any are out of shape, shall we call them flabbies?)

There was a rumor that the owner, Charles Cole Memorial Hospital, was going to expand the former hospital building to provide space for more services. I heard this from a physical therapy patient who heard it from a staffer.

When I asked a public information person at CCMH, she told me that she could provide no news about the expansion. The funding is not yet in hand. When there is news of an expansion she will let me know.

I take that to mean that there has been discussion of an expansion, and some planning has been done, but plans have been suspended until funding has been found or arranged. CCMH has not abandoned the idea.

An old friend from school days e-mailed, reminiscing about musicians he remembers from high school. Sam Mole Jr. was one—a fine trumpet player. “Fuzzy” heard that Sammy played at a reunion of the Class of 1957, and someone may have captured a video of that. I don’t know which reunion that would have been, but if anyone out there knows of such a video, we would like to hear about it.

Fuzzy also mentioned Bob Rialti and Joel Anderson as excellent musicians. Hear, hear! The recent Moments to Remember had some music and some musicians from the 1950s, didn’t it!


It’s that time of year. Time for figuring out what has to be bought and what has to be done and what money we have to do it with and how much will be left and where the next money is coming from.

You’re thinking, Christmas shopping? Yes, it is supposed to be starting earlier than ever this year, with preview sales before Black Friday. Spending that Christmas Club money and looking for more, doing layaways to lock in those super bargain prices, trying not to max out those cards?

Yes, that too. But what I was talking about was area municipalities and their annual budget preparation, tentative budgets, and adoption of next year’s budget before the December 31 deadline.

The county has to do that too. Most of our school districts go through that process in the spring, and adopt their annual budgets by a June 30 deadline. We know the state budget process is supposed to be concluded by June 30 too, although in recent years it has dragged on and on. But the county and the municipalities in it have fiscal years that match the calendar year.

Most of the townships in McKean County are as rural as can be. Some are “bedroom townships” where people live who work in nearby boroughs or more populated townships or the City of Bradford. As such they do not contain much industry and commerce, but mainly residences.

Residents have chosen to reside there because they like country life, they cherish privacy, they don’t want to pay borough water-sewer rates, they don’t like noisy traffic, and land wasn’t very expensive when they were looking for building sites.

Ah, nature! Wildlife! Peaceful valleys nestled among Allegheny foothills, where summer greenery and autumn color give way to ornate twiggery of trees and brush!

Some residents are the current generations of families that have lived there or nearby in the township, from way, way back. Their roots are like those of a giant oak, ancient and tenacious.

Yet even the landscape changes, with some of those foothills having received podiatric surgery way beyond bunion shaving and neuroma excision. The whole anatomies of some townships have received piercings, and there have been grotesque appurtenances attached. Where pipelines seemed like hair parts, now clear-cut expanses have left just tufts, or scalp locks.

Meanwhile those jaunts to town and commutes to jobs have become longer and more costly. Where cable and Internet are available, and cell signals reach, communications keep people connected. Still, they need mobility.

What they really need from township government is roads. Decent roads, roads that are passable all year, roads that don’t require the residents to drive high-suspension pickups, or amphicars, for those times when rapid run-off overwhelm ditches, sluices and stream channels.

The residents want their roads cleared of snow, and treated with something for ice melting and traction. They do not want to slalom around potholes or break springs or axels when the slalom course gets impossible to traverse. They don’t want to bottom out on bridges, or endure kidney-punishing jolts throughout the Ho Chi Minh Trail stretches.

Trouble is, road fixing and improving, ditching, bridge repairs and reinforcement, snow removal and ice treatment all cost more and more.

Every township around advertises for paving and other road work materials, separately and over and over. All of them have equipment, some of it used a lot and some now and then. All of them have to replace equipment. All of them have labor costs associated with roads. All have residents who come in now and then and upbraid the supervisors if roads those particular residents use are in bad shape. Sometimes they even ask for their old dirt roads back—at least those didn’t have potholes you could lose your compact car in.

If there is anything township residents hate almost as much as bad county roads, particularly theirs, it is having their taxes raised. Notice I said “almost as much.” When asked whether they would stand still for a tax increase if that would help get the roads fixed faster and better, quite a few of those residents say they would.

Raise taxes a mill or two, they say. Save money, don’t spend any money you don’t have to—unless it will make our roads and sluices and culverts better.

Other matters that agitate township residents tend to be beyond the control of the township government. Codes will be enforced, and stormwater will be managed, and sanitation will be required and drinking water will be checked and garbage and trash will be disposed of lawfully one way or another and whether the locals like it or not. The state, DEP and feds demand it. Townships will be compliant in those processes whether their officials and their residents are willing or mutter about rebellion.

Meanwhile, supervisors have to see to the roads and pay the bills. And taxpayers have to ante up.


It’s that time of year. Time for figuring out what has to be bought and what has to be done and what money we have to do it with and how much will be left and where the next money is coming from.

You’re thinking, Christmas shopping? Yes, it is supposed to be starting earlier than ever this year, with preview sales before Black Friday. Spending that Christmas Club money and looking for more, doing layaways to lock in those super bargain prices, trying not to max out those cards.

Yes, that too. But what I was talking about was area municipalities and their annual budget preparation, tentative budgets, and adoption of next year’s budget before the December 31 deadline.

The county has to do that too. Most of our school districts go through that process in the spring, and adopt their annual budgets by a June 30 deadline. We know the state budget process is supposed to be concluded by June 30 too, although in recent years it has dragged on and on. But the county and the municipalities in it have fiscal years that match the calendar year.

Most of the townships in McKean County are as rural as can be. Some are “bedroom townships” where people live who work in nearby boroughs or more populated townships or the City of Bradford. As such they do not contain much industry and commerce, but mainly residences.

Residents have chosen to reside there because they like country life, they cherish privacy, they don’t want to pay borough water-sewer rates, they don’t like noisy traffic, and land wasn’t very expensive when they were looking for building sites.

Ah, nature! Wildlife! Peaceful valleys nestled among Allegheny foothills, where summer greenery and autumn color give way to ornate twiggery of trees and brush!

Some residents are the current generations of families that have lived there or nearby in the township, from way, way back. Their roots are like those of a giant oak, ancient and tenacious.

Yet even the landscape changes, with some of those foothills having received podiatric surgery way beyond bunion shaving and neuroma excision. The whole anatomies of some townships have received piercings, and there have been grotesque appurtenances attached. Where pipelines seemed like hair parts, now clear-cut expanses have left just tufts, or scalp locks.

Meanwhile those jaunts to town and commutes to jobs have become longer and more costly. Where cable and Internet are available, and cell signals reach, communications keep people connected. Still, they need mobility.

What they really need from township government is roads. Decent roads, roads that are passable all year, roads that don’t require the residents to drive high-suspension pickups, or amphicars, for those times when rapid run-off overwhelm ditches, sluices and stream channels.

The residents want their roads cleared of snow, and treated with something for ice melting and traction. They do not want to slalom around potholes or break springs or axels when the slalom course gets impossible to traverse. They don’t want to bottom out on bridges, or endure kidney-punishing jolts throughout the Ho Chi Minh Trail stretches.

Trouble is, road fixing and improving, ditching, bridge repairs and reinforcement, snow removal and ice treatment all cost more and more.

Every township around advertises for paving and other road work materials, separately and over and over. All of them have equipment, some of it used a lot and some now and then. All of them have to replace equipment. All of them have labor costs associated with roads. All have residents who come in now and then and upbraid the supervisors if roads those particular residents use are in bad shape. Sometimes they even ask for their old dirt roads back—at least those didn’t have potholes you could lose your compact car in.

If there is anything township residents hate almost as much as bad county roads, particularly theirs, it is having their taxes raised. Notice I said “almost as much.” When asked whether they would stand still for a tax increase if that would help get the roads fixed faster and better, quite a few of those residents say they would.

Raise taxes a mill or two, they say. Save money, don’t spend any money you don’t have to—unless it will make our roads and sluices and culverts better.

Other matters that agitate township residents tend to be beyond the control of the township government. Codes will be enforced, and stormwater will be managed, and sanitation will be required and drinking water will be checked and garbage and trash will be disposed of lawfully one way or another and whether the locals like it or not. The state, DEP and feds demand it. Townships will be compliant in those processes whether their officials and their residents are willing or mutter about rebellion.

Meanwhile, supervisors have to see to the roads and pay the bills. And taxpayers have to ante up.


The passing of an era—the closing of Lindgren’s store.

Some of us wish that the store had just been sold to someone who wanted to be the next proprietor there. We would have missed the congenial proprietors we knew, but we would have continued to have that shopping experience that is so hard to find now.

It was a lot like a five-and-ten; it was something like a department store; it was rather like a discount store, with lots of bargains; it was a dry goods store, for those who can remember dry goods stores; it was a variety store.

So some of us often made a stop at Lindgren’s part of most trips to Smethport. Maybe we also stopped at the Dollar General over there (which has a somewhat different selection from ours in Port), but there were certain items we could find only at Lindgren’s.

My favorite departments were the fabric and sewing-needlecraft notions, and housewares. Sister would find some clothes she liked.

I don’t know why the business didn’t just change hands, but my guess is that anything “grandfathered” would lose that status if ownership changed. Stairs?

Until a year or so ago I could still buy hairnets, the kind that works for me, at Lindgren’s. When they stopped stocking hairnets they offered to special-order them for me, if I would buy a dozen at a time. Sure enough, Lindgrens soon called me to tell me the hairnets had come in. I think I have one left. Now I suppose I’ll have to find them online.

Back in the day we had our five-and-ten and dry goods stores in Port. How many remember Kantar’s, Nina Hansen’s, Farmelo’s, Botera’s? The Hong Kong Dollar tried valiantly, but it wasn’t the same.

Farbers have offered shopping opportunities that are a lot like what many locals remembered, with newer features also appreciated. We shoppers like to keep some of the past, and we like innovations too.

I doubt that we will see a rebirth of the local shopping district we used to have. Now we do have one block that seems to thrive. Could there be at least some little patches of renewed vigor, in the south block?

We could park at Maple Commons and visit places in both blocks. In the district as a whole there’s food, there are businesses that together offer a broad spectrum of wares and services, there are banks and ATMs, there are pharmacies, and “pre-owned” clothing and more.

There are pre-owned clothing and other items in the south block too, but not much else has been happening there.

That still seems regrettable, to me, because I used to have a business there. At this time of year, as the holiday lights get turned on and things begin to look festive, I get nostalgic.

Back then the shopping season started, officially, on December 10! I don’t think Christmas Clubs paid out until December in those days.

December 10 was when we started staying open until 9 p.m. every night. Local shoppers shopped locally, and very actively. They checked here first. Then, if they couldn’t find the toy or housewares or clothing item or whatever here, they trekked to Coudersport or Olean or Bradford. A few talked about their Buffalo and Rochester shopping trips.

Malls, first in Olean and then in Bradford, began to change shopping habits. Weston’s Mills was a discount department store within reasonable range, and popular.

Family Bargain Center and Olean Wholesale impacted shopping habits too. Then came K-Mart, which was predatory enough in its heyday. It would sell a line such as Wranglers below our local retailer’s cost, and force him out of contention—then raise the price once he had thrown in the towel.

Catalog stores offered a large selection without much inventory, and were run by local franchisees. But they didn’t provide instant gratification! Then soon there were too many other ways of ordering.

Now every year brings a larger proportion of Christmas shopping being done online. Judging from the volume of catalogs still arriving in our mailboxes, we know millions still shop by catalog and then phone in orders or even mail in those order blanks.

Catalogs serve a different purpose, for many modern shoppers. People tell me they still love to look through catalogs “for ideas.” One looked through a luxury-goods catalog I had received (I don’t know why the company sent one to me!) and remarked on the princes. “But I like looking and figuring out how I could make those.”

Internet shoppers like catalogs for finding things they might get for this one or that one on their lists—then checking for the best prices online, then ordering online.

This year many dot-com sellers are offering free shipping “without the asterisk” or on orders with far lower totals than the ones we used to have to reach. Shipping costs have been that extra cost that used to send shoppers to brick-and-mortars. Now shipping delay might be a factor, but with express shipping delivery options that can be overcome.

Cyber-shopping is not local, downtown shopping, not Lindgren’s. I shop online for so many things I need in my business, and for myself. But I also like what we still have, for “downtown” shopping, and our Benton Place stores.

Where are you shopping this year? And did you go out on Black Friday and Saturday and get all your shopping done?


Mail bag, voice mail, buttonhole conversations—people pose interesting questions.

In most cases the questioners don’t think I have the answers—just that I might have a source to suggest, or might poke around and find out. It’s as if I have a license to be nosy. Call it a peskiness privilege.

On a snowy Monday morning, someone calls and says, “Why are they having school?” The questioner goes on to describe road conditions, and state that in many other places schools are closed.

It seems to me Port Allegany School District has a sort of tradition, or an ongoing policy, that school should not be closed except in dire circumstances. Other schools may close, but we are made of sterner stuff.

It is a pain, making the necessary arrangements and getting the word out, I am sure. No one wants to think of little kids standing there in blustery weather, waiting for a bus that isn’t coming.

Parents who are working hate having to make other arrangements for child care during a school day that has turned into a no-school day. Child care and transport problems also multiply when there is early dismissal.

Still, safety trumps convenience. There are some things we can gamble with, but not lives, not the safety of children.

Maybe the matter will be discussed at the school board meeting—especially if the caller is able to come to the meeting.

That brings me to the question of why the school board has to hold its annual reorganization meeting on the first Monday of December, which conflicts with the meeting of two municipalities that lie with the district. By law it must be in that first week, but not necessarily on Monday.

And why do municipalities old their re-orgs on the first Monday of January?

Newly elected officials need to be seated as early in the year as possible. We didn’t have municipal elections this year, but the officers of each board should be elected as early as possible and the board organized for work.

But why have all the reorganizational meetings on that first Monday? Why not just in the first week of January rather than all on the same night?

I asked one official about that. He looked bemused. “Most of us are not on more than one elected board,” he pointed out. Then he added, “I can see that it does make things difficult for reporters.” Sounds sympathetic, right? You had to be there to understand, from the grin and the eyebrow wagging, that he thought making things difficult for reporters might be a good thing.

Yes, it does stimulate my curiosity, whenever I get the impression that official types are trying to keep public information private. But that’s a different issue. Making it difficult for the press to attend public meetings is also making it difficult for the public to attend them.

How many members of the public want or need to attend meetings of two public bodies? Not so many, I’ll grant you. But sometimes some do. Case in point: the person who was concerned because our schools were open today also is a faithful attender of meetings of a municipality. That good citizen would have to miss the December meeting of the municipality to attend the re-org meeting of the school board.

Here’s another perplexing situation. There are strict residency rules that apply to running for judge. The individual must live in the county to run for judge of the Court of Common Pleas of that county. Having run and been elected, that judge must continue to live in that county to remain on the bench.

But if there is a vacancy on the bench in “county court,” as there has been on ours for a long time now, senior (think “retired”) visiting judges from wherever (well, not out-of-state) can be ordered up, and those visiting judges can dispense justice with as much authority as if they lived here and had been elected by us.

There have been qualified appointees, I understand, and Governor Ed Rendell could have sent names of nominees to fill various court vacancies, all this time, but it was understood that the legislature would not vote to confirm those appointments.

It’s much cheaper to pay per-diem stipends to senior visiting judges.

I think I have seen some of those senior visiting judges experience senior moments—rather protracted ones, actually. I know that remark smacks of ageism, but didn’t those judges retire because they were of retirement age and because their jobs are demanding and even stressful? Maybe too much for most people that age (except for SCOTUS, where judges are appointed for life and can be doddering long before they hang it up).

The legislature or Rendell or both have been cutting costs by rationing justice, seems to me. Many civil matters and criminal cases are kept waiting, and many are being decided by persons who could not be elected judge here.

E-mail martini@zitomedia.net. Call 814.642.7552.


There was a young man of this town

Who was buried in snow to his frown.

When asked, “Are you friz?”

He replied, “’Course I is

“But we don’t call this cold, in this town.”

Yes, we are hardy folk. Winter’s icy blasts are nothing new to us. Those who stay here right through the winter see friends and neighbors leave for Florida and California and Texas. Well, we are made of sterner stuff, right? (Never mind that given the chance, we’d head for warmer climes.)

Recently a friend e-mailed to inquire whether I was keeping warm. I assured him that I was not. I sent him a litany of my cold weather woes, including the frozen pipes (but hey, the faucets don’t drip!). After I declared that I was about to find an underground woodchuck den and hibernate with its residents, he realized I was really feeling the effects of the cold and it was affecting my brain. He was for bringing his quartz heater over immediately.

Some of us remember when we laughed off the cold.  We were like my neighbor’s kids, frolicking in the snow. Slipping on the ice and falling was part of the fun, and funny enough to do again on purpose.

A reader of a certain age wrote to share recollections of long ago winters.

“The winters we remember were the hard ones,” she said.
“I am sure there were mild winters too, but those don’t stand out when I think back.

“I have picture of us kids that different ones took. They liked to take pictures outdoors because indoors we had to use flash bulbs and special film. In the winter pictures you can see a lot of snow. It was pretty deep. There would be the snowmen we made. We made a lot of them. We also made snow forts, and had these big snowball battles. If one side ran out of snowballs and the other side had some left they would come to your fort and use all their snowballs on you.

“Another thing they would do is take you down in the snow and wash your face with snow. They would put snow down your neck.

“We did a lot of this at school. I don’t think kids do this at school now. Maybe they would get in trouble for bullying.”

I remember some of those kinds of snow play, and “hard” winters when fence posts disappeared from the landscape until there was a general thaw, and where the creeks could not be seen.

“Riding down hill” was a favorite activity. This involved sleds and toboggans. Some people called it sledding. This would be done on our farm. The hill behind the house was the right place because the other hills had too much barbwire. This sport was indulged in by us two girls whenever there was enough snow. If there was crust on the snow that made it more challenging.

Sometimes the neighbor kids or one cousin or another brought sleds. There would be sledding at noon hour at school, where there was a steep, fairly clear hill behind the school. That hillside continued past my grandparents’ place.

We learned the consequences of not stopping the sled ride before reaching the road. We could encounter a fence there, or we could go airborne into the road.

Some country roads were not cleared after heavy snow until the township could borrow a grader. We might have to hike a quarter of a mile to where the truck had to be left. Milk had to be hauled out on a “stone boat.”

My correspondent did not mention the “chicken feather” smell of wet woolen coats and “snow pants” that would be hung to dry beside the stove—at school and at home. Perhaps she remembers when Neighbor Harry would come down to school to give us a ride up the valley, using his team and a sleigh. The harness had large, loud jingle bells on it. Perhaps some part of the harness was used when we needed the sound effect in some little PTA-sponsored play or concert.

One of our childhood sleds, a small Flexible Flyer type, is here, and a few years back it came in handy pulling groceries from the car to the house. I have not seen any kids riding down hill since years ago, except when the neighbor kids used the plowed snow banks at the PC parking lot, off Benton, as hillsides a year or two back. Now that lot is closed.

We still like singing “Jingle Bells,” and reminisce about when the Square was flooded and dozens of kids and grownups would go down there to skate. No one-horse open sleighs, now, no skating parties., not many snow fences around. Few yards are populated by snow people. There has not been an outbreak of snow warfare, complete with forts and ammo (hardened by a application of water) for decades.

But people still ask, “Cold enough for you?” And some of us insist that we don’t call this cold, in this town.



What stories she could tell! She had been through some great adventures, leaving war-torn Europe and coming to America, specifically to Pennsylvania.

Lottie and husband Helmut had two little Seefeldts then, I believe she told me. They applied to leave Austria and come to these parts, where they would have work and a place to live.

That was important. Displaced persons were not supposed to come here to be public charges. No matter what it says on the base of the Statue of Liberty about the tired and poor and wretched refuse, the post-World War II immigrants had to have families or employers prepared to make sure the newcomers would have work and homes.

Living on a G.L. Carlson tenant farm would mean work and a home. But what about the language barrier? Helmut and Lottie didn’t speak much of any English, she recalled when she was telling me the story.

“They told us if we are going to Pennsylvania, that will be okay. In Pennsylvania they speak German. We came here. No one is speaking German. No one!” Then she would laugh with delight at the joke on them, or the consulate.

She liked to remember Helmut’s exploits, and how he and she had managed so that at last they were able to retire off the farm and have their own place in town.

The farm days had many memories for her. And of course she remembered her homeland. There were those rare trips back, to see family and friends. Occasionally visitors came to Benton Avenue from Germany.

On summer evenings when I would be out in the garden, Lottie would wave and call from across the street. Sometimes she would walk over for chats through the garden fence. I would ask her what she could use. Some onions? Lettuce? Mint or chives? Tomatoes or peppers? Parsley? I would hand it over the top of the fence. “This is good! I will enjoy! From the garden is the best food,” she would enthuse.

Sharon would stroll over to chat with Lottie. One evening I was watching the bats doing their aerial maneuvers high above. Sharon spotted them too, and gave a little shudder and went indoors. Bats are not her thing.

Lottie, though, was entranced. “Fledermause!” she said. “I like to watch. Catching all the bugs like they do back home.”

The neighborhood is not the same without this dauntless lady. We will miss her.

Once again I feel regret. It isn’t just that we have lost this good member of our community, but also that we did not capture her stories in audio or video. How many more repositories of history will we lose?

*    *    *

My highly alert “Cuzzin,” Elizabeth Stout, e-mailed me this seeming sequel to last week’s weather-related doggerel:

Oh, what a blamed uncertain thing 

This pesky weather is; 

It blew and snew and then it thew, 

And now, by jing, it's friz.

She said she had received it from “Aunt Mary Sawyer Gallup,” and added, “She even credited it to Philander Johnson—correctly, according to Google.”

I noticed that the poem is not a limerick, and thought it could be made into one easily enough, if Philander Johnson would not mind too much.

The cause of excess mis-

Ery this weather is.

It blew and snew

And then it thew,

And now, by jing, it’s friz.

*    *    *

“Who used to sponsor the Christmas lighting contest in Port Allegany?” asks a reader.

I’m not sure. Maybe the Chamber of Commerce?

Next question. “A hit TV show is about a Glee Club. Some of us remember when there was a Glee Club in our high school. Most high schools and colleges had glee clubs. Apparently in some places they still do. Do you know why they don’t have one here?”

I’m not sure they don’t! Maybe it’s just that they don’t call any of our school-based vocal groups that. I’d have to dig out a year book to know what they called the large vocal ensemble when I was in high school. Maybe it was the Glee Club, maybe it was Chorus.

Were Glee Clubs called that because people in them were gleeful and were expressing jubilation by singing? Originally, vocal glee was singing in which each participant sang an individual melody, and maybe individual, not shared or identical, words. Eventually the word was applied more loosely to group singing, and could include vocal combos where people sang in a more orderly way. Now show choirs perform numbers that incorporate dance and drama, and a broad variety of musical styles.

Which brings me to the variety of kinds of projects the newly combined, still agglomerating Potter-McKean Players contemplate undertaking.

There are other folks out there, not yet members of M-P P who have something to add to the group, others who would enjoy the experience and provide some entertainment for the rest of us. So hurry and join up! Contact Dave or Anna Fair, Joel or Dottie Anderson.

Whee! More glee for thee and me!



“I wrote to you a long time ago and argued with you about something you wrote about MadeBig. I don’t know if it was in the paper or on line. I was upset because you didn’t think much of MadeBig. I had bought in after a very nice, religious person invited me. I thought it was mean to tell people not to do it. I thought they would have a chance to make a lot of money.

“I apologize for arguing with you about that. I wanted you to write something else and say MadeBig was worth at least trying. You said you would not take back what you said unless you heard of someone making some money from MadeBig. I told you I would let you know as soon as I made money.

“You were right. I did not make money. I told a friend about MadeBig, and thought she would make money too. She didn’t make anything. She really tried. I think she told a lot of people to join. I lost all the money I put into it and she did too.

“Next time I will believe you. I am sure you checked it out and that was why you said to stay away from it.

“If you want to say anything about this, please don’t use my name because I am embarrassed that I fell for this even though I was warned. The reason I did is that the person who told me about it is so nice. She probably thought she was doing me a favor. She probably didn’t make anything either. She told me she had joined quite early. It cost more than $200.”

Well, it would be superfluous to say, “I told you so,” so I won’t. It doesn’t give me any pleasure to learn of people having lost money through pyramid or MLM (multi-level marketing) schemes. There are still individuals out there peddling them, though.

I remember being urged by someone to become involved in MadeBig. It seems to me I could join for half price for a limited time, something like that. I had been at some event on the Square, and this person was there. She was handing out little slingers with the information. I was supposed to call a certain number at 9 p.m. one of several nights and punch in a certain set of numbers. I would state my identity and listen to a talk.

Instead of doing that, I did some research on the company and on Transcend Marketing International, Inc., and the guy who headed the company.

Direct marketing is one thing; MLMs are not quite the same, are they? Selling a product for a fair price is one thing; developing a long “down line” to make money from other people’s efforts, in a profit-chain system, and recruiting others to do the same, turns direct marketing into direct and increasingly remote exploitation 

At the time my correspondent was invited to become involved in MakeBig, its thrust seemed to be selling stuff. People who signed up would be given customers, and it would be almost effortless to sell to them. Sign up at the right time and you would be given 300 customers. You would not have to go out and get those customers, because the customers would be assigned to you. (What, when and how much they would buy would be a different matter, I suppose.)

But the Salt Lake City-based outfit repeatedly changed its emphases and marketing plan. It has existed in one form or another since 1999, but always has had a small user base and a low volume of Web traffic.

After one wave of “agents” had invested up to $297 to come aboard and recruit others and promote site use, and some paid an additional $70 a month to attain special rank and qualify for a percentage of the take, the enterprise was remarketed and that business model was abandoned. Those agents got little or nothing for their investments.

Social networking was another feature offered at some points in MakeBig’s history, with members trading goods in the MarketExchange, connecting with local businesses and participating in games.

Games and social entrepreneuring and an unregistered foundation owned by MadeBig head honcho RichiRoane and called “Grant Wishes” are among the latest MadeBig activities I have seen.

My correspondent has done a service by reminding me of our earlier discussions about MadeBig, and telling about her experience. If you accepted a MadeBig invitation at some point, I hope you fared better and sympathize if you did not.



1/06/11 - No Column This Week



What are the unmet needs in our community? Are there services we used to have but don’t have now? Are there programs other communities have but we don’t?

Until recently we might have said that we used to have Community Players and now we don’t. But we do have a resurgent group or troupe of players. That they are joining forces with the Potter Players is all to the good, it seems to me. Talent there, talent here, a wider audience or multiple audiences, greater capabilities, broader base. Things look promising.

Similar hopeful possibilities were at the heart of the decision to throw in the lot of Port Allegany Community Hospital with Charles Cole Memorial Hospital.

Broader base. Larger catchment area. Better funding base. Larger facility, growth potential, borrowing ability, revenues, grant eligibility, ability to attract and retain staff. Port Allegany area was lucky to be allowed to hand over its hospital and become a part of the CCMH family.

Offices and services at the local health center seem to be well utilized. There is talk (conflicting reports, coming to this office) concerning a possible expansion. The fitness center is a happening place, I understand. Part of the former PACH is home to Maple Manor. Well and good.

This community was promised that we would always be part of CCMH and would always be represented. And there seem to be Port Alleganians on the board. CCMH picks them.

And people can join CCMH’s membership during a certain enrollment period every summer, upon payment of dues. I don’t know what all that entitles people to—what meetings members attend. Not board meetings, apparently, and those are where things are decided.

Port Allegany Community Hospital had many members: adult residents of its service area. They did not have to pay dues, but they could attend the annual membership meeting and vote, and they could elect officers and directors by direct vote. Mambers heard annual reports and adopted a budget. I believe they usually met in the social room of the United Methodist Church.

All CCMH board meetings were open to the members and to the public and press. I attended those meetings as routinely as I attended school board meetings.

Last I heard, CCMH does not allow public and press to attend its board meetings—nor rank and file, dues paying members. I’d love to learn that I am mistaken, or that things are done in an open manner. It’s hard to imagine good reasons for secrecy concerning hospital business, especially a nonprofit one that seeks charitable contributions and government support, and is tax exempt. If CCMH has subsumed our community hospital, we might be forgiven for wishing for the open governance that used to be a hallmark of PACH.

Without PACH, we don’t have the annual hospital benefit Snow Ball or Valentine Ball that used to be held here—at the Moose, I think. The social event of the season!

We used to have a Chamber of Commerce, and an Economic Development Corporation, and a Revitalization group. What is their status now? Have all carried out their dissolution plans, as specified in their bylaws? Or do we still have some ambitions for economic development, commerce and vitality?

We have had youth centers or teen centers, in the past. There is some funding now for youth recreation, through the United Fund. Can some of the (oddly named, but well motivated) Youth Counselors funding help establish a teen center? Can one of the empty spaces in the south block of the business section be put to use for a good purpose? Or will another suitable place be found?

Years ago there was a good second hand furniture store here. Remember Danny Wengar’s? Tommy Moulton’s? Well, that was a while back. But I hear we have one now, in the Sud Shop building. I can’t wait to check it out.

What’s your list? What don’t we have that we used to? What do we lack that we could and should have, in the community?



Ask for suggestions, and often you get them, and sometimes you get some really good ones.

I have a collection of some that have come my way. Most are not directed toward me, for implementation, but the suggesters chose me as a conduit.

For instance, one person said it would be a good idea to have a suggestion box on or in every public building.

“I went over to the Court House and it was closed. They were closed four days in a row. I know they are always closed for the weekend. Plus they have holidays. I still think there should be a way to get something inside where it would be the same as delivered in the mail.

“Do you think it would be possible to have slots where people could put their tax payments and other things, so they would not have to make another trip?

“While I am on the subject, what about having something like a suggestion box in the Court House? If there was one outside, people could put in suggestions anytime. Or it could be in the lobby.

“That would also be an idea for all the governments to think about. There could be a suggestion box in the Borough Building. They could ask a Vo Tech class to make them.”

The first question was whether I think it would be possible to have slots for mail to county departments—presumably a slot (or box?) placed in the outer wall of the Court House. I have not looked to see whether there is such an arrangement now.

If there is not, it seems to me it would be a nice convenience for the public. But there might be security considerations. There have been many changes in public buildings because of security considerations, haven’t there!

As to the idea of suggestion boxes on or in other public buildings, I like it! That’s no indication that the people in charge would find it workable.

Meanwhile, there are other ways of making suggestions to government, government agencies and officials. One is to attend public meetings of government and its agencies—and most of them are required to be public. That includes committees meetings, board and commission meetings (such as planning), special meetings and work sessions. And in nearly all of those meetings there is a place on the agenda for public comments.

The press is a subset of the public. Also, we serve the same public the elected and appointed officials do, it seems to me. As a member of the press I like seeing other members of the public at those meetings, and hearing comments from them. Sometimes those are the most interesting part of a meeting! In many cases they do add considerably to the content. A question or comment at a public meeting is “on the record,” whereas questions asked privately are not.

People can call and write to and e-mail government figures, asking questions, offering suggestions.

On this very page there is a place for what I like to call lettitors. Writers read, you know—we even read each other’s columns (at least I do). And readers write.

Still, I understand that sometimes people feel that they can speak more freely if they are anonymous. We accept the idea that the secret ballot is an important bulwark of democracy. Without it, could we feel safe in voting our convictions? Aren’t there situations in which people can’t provide their valuable information or viewpoints openly for fear of retaliation? Maybe the punitive action would be against a family member, even a child. At least that is the fear.

In those cases, the opportunity to “suggest anonymously” would be welcome, I think. A slot in the side of the Borough Building? Well, maybe that would work, but if we use it by day, that isn’t very anonymous. If by night, would the suggester be suspected of “loitering and prowling by night”?

There are other interesting suggestions here in my file, and I plan to pass some of them on to you soon. Meanwhile, I’m always happy to receive more of your ideas.

Someone did send me a warning that I had better not forget to write my Woodchuck Column. “This has been a hard winter so far and we do not need it to be a minute longer than average,” this correspondent points out. Point taken.

Peace (but not to marmots).



Just look out the window. There is no earthly reason for a groundhog to come out of its burrow. Short of a hurry-up January thaw, there won’t be a reason for one to be topside on February 2, either.

But since when have woodchucks been known for sweet reasonableness? That Geico commercial pretty much says it all, when it comes to how much consideration we can expect from woodchucks.

Call them Marmota monax, land beavers, Scuridae (a rodent family), ground squirrels, whistle pigs or groundhogs. (We won’t get into what I call them, in this respectable publication.) Call one Phil (in Punxutawney), and another Willie (in Wiarton, Ont.) and a third General Beauregard Lee (in Atlanta, Ga.) A woodchuck by any name is a varmint in need of plinking, and an insufferable pest.

According to Wikipedia, the groundhog is widely distributed in North America. As I consider that passive verb, I am left wondering, just who is distributing them? I know they are promoted, by the Pennsylvania Lottery no less, an agency of our fair commonwealth. But who is in charge of distribution? Who all are ordering woodchucks, at the wholesale or the retail level?

Wikipedia says the groundhog is the largest scurrid in its territory, measuring from 16 to 26 inches long including its six-inch tail, and weighing up to nine pounds, except where there are few natural predators but lots of alfalfa and might pork up to 31 pounds.

I don’t think of myself as a natural predator of woodchucks, just a natural enemy, but only because they have carried on guerilla warfare against me and my kind for generations. And I personally know woodchucks that weigh way more than nine pounds without eating alfalfa. They are more than willing to settle for lettuce, cabbage, peas, beans, corn, and about anything except tomatoes and onions, from my garden.

According to Wikipedia, groundhogs are well adapted to digging, with their powerful limbs and thick, curved claws. They wear dense grey undercoat fur and banded guard hairs, which provide woodchucks with a “distinctive ‘frosted’ appearance.” Well la-di-da! I am distinctly frosted by any woodchuck’s appearance, but I know they come in several colors around here, from palomino to nearly black.

If the fur is all that distinctive, why don’t trappers catch them for those gorgeous pelts? If there was a fad for coonskin caps, couldn’t there be one for woodchuck caps? And why coonskin coats, when we could have chuckskin ones? Of course Marketing would insist on calling them Marmot fur coats. I bet Distribution would agree, and Retail would display those garments right next to the Rabbit (I mean Lapin) coats.

(I pause to observe that there is precedent for getting fur coats from disgusting animals, witness the young lady who got one from a skunk.)

Wikipedia says groundhogs usually live from two to three years but can live up to six in the wild. To which I would add, not if I can help it.

Common predators, it says, are wolves, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, bears, large hawks, owls and dogs. You go, common predators!

There is mention of woodchucks sitting up eating nuts, and of their ability to sit erect on their hindquarters. So a friend found out when she pulled into her South Main driveway and beheld a big chuck sitting bolt upright on her lawn swing, holding an apple in its forepaws and munching contentedly. She thought this was a charming sight. I was outraged that she was giving aid and comfort to the enemy. I urged her to put out poisoned apples; she refused. Something about neighborhood children.

Wikipedia continues with its extravagant praise of woodchucks. They are “excellent burrowers.” A chuck can move 710 pounds of dirt in preparing a burrow, and can have 46 feet of tunnels connected to it, and provide two to five entrances.

Elsewhere I read of groundhogs adapting existing cavities including crawl spaces and cellars, and repairing collapsed tunnels. Here’s my advice to groundhogs planning to create or appropriate infrastructure on my land: neither a burrower nor a mender be.

Peace (you know the exception).



Recently I mentioned here that Pennsylvania is chock full of government. From feedback so far, I gather that there is some agreement with that assessment. And some of it supports the idea that we need all the government we can get, and it needs to be very small and close to home.

A phone caller who declined to tell me his name and whose number did not show up on my phone said, “We have a lot of little governments because that is the kind that we can keep track of better. The people live here. We know who we are voting for. They know what the problems are.”

I asked him what he thinks about the size of the Pennsylvania legislature, He said he thinks it is about right, even if we are more heavily represented than people in most states.

“Having a lot of districts means our representatives are closer to us and we know them better,” he said.

“Do you think our state government costs too much?” I asked.

“Well, it does cost a lot. Yes, I guess I would say it costs too much. I don’t really think they all have to be full-time, and I don’t think they need so much staff,” the caller said. “Some of them have a lot of offices and a lot of people working in their offices.” But he wouldn’t say which ones.

In a conversation in the Court House an area resident explained what he thinks is wrong with government. “They keep inventing more boards and councils. There was a letter to the editor about that.” I believe he was speaking about a letter from Annin Township government watcher Jim Gotshall. “And they have all these COGs; they are always having COG meetings.”

In Gotshall’s lettitor I believe there had been mention of PSATS, the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors. A Council of Governments (COG) is somewhat different.

COGs are authorized under the Intergovernmental Cooperation Act, first adopted in 1943 and first amended in 1972. Already the Pennsylvania Constitution had allowed for intergovernmental cooperation, but the ICA states,  “A municipality…may…cooperate...or agree in the exercise of any function, power or responsibility with… one or more municipalities…”

COGs are a mechanism for cooperation among municipalities in a particular area. Municipalities can be “mixed”: boroughs, townships, cities.

And, would you believe, there is an association of COGS? Of course! It’s PACOG.

The ICA was amended again in 1986, to authorize COGs to apply for state aid or grants.

In 1996 there was another revision, fleshing out the ICA to provide definitions and detail various functions such as joint purchases. The 1996 amendment package was Act 177, and that is a common way of referring to the ICA of today.

Then in 2001 Section 2316 was added, making COGS legal entities.

 “All Commonwealth departments and agencies in the performance of their administrative duties shall deem a council of governments, consortiums or other similar entities, established by two or more municipalities under this sub-chapter as a legal entity.”

PACOG is the central organization representing all the COGs in the state. COGs can join PACOG and send voting delegates to PACOG meetings. Like COGs, PACOG is not a government agency but an organization.

PACOG has a strategic plan. It explains the need thus:  “With the changing economy impacting the revenues, expenditures and services of counties and municipal governments, achieving efficiencies and effectiveness is more important than ever. The most direct way to achieve this is through active, committed, productive intergovernmental cooperation.”

As the goals are listed, the strategic plan begins to sound like something of a marketing plan.

1. Position PACOG as the overall ‘Go to Resource’ for intergovernmental issues, opportunities, and questions in Pennsylvania.

“2. Make PACOG the central, visible, active, and effective organization and program serving COGs and the full range of intergovernmental organization needs and processes throughout Pennsylvania;

“3. Significantly elevate and improve PACOG’s visibility, standing, and programs supporting COGs and intergovernmental organizations across Pennsylvania.

“4. Set PACOG apart from, yet in full partnership with, the other municipal associations through the active support of cross-jurisdictional, intergovernmental collaboration and coordination.

Of course all that requires staff, and funding, presumably from the dues paid by member COGs. (There are also dues-paying associate members—vendors and service providers. Of course! But they are not voting members.)

Those member COGs have staff and funding, and get money from dues paid by member municipalities.

It seems to me COGs can provide some worthwhile services, and even save the member municipalities, and their taxpayers, some money.

If COGs expedite group purchasing and bidding, that could effect savings. Intermediate Units and other consortia have helped member school districts that way for many years.

What do you think about the size of government in our fair commonwealth? Does the existence of COGs sound like quasi-consolidation, or just collaboration?




“I would like to know more about how they built the railroad here,” a reader writes. “I remember hearing about people in my family who ‘worked on the section.’ They were helping build or repair the railroad. It was the Pennsylvania Railroad, I am sure.”

That does sound like an interesting era, and a fascinating part of our local history. Perhaps other readers out there have some information to share, about that.

My dad worked on the section at some point, before I was born. The railroad also figured in his education, after his graduation from grammar school at Wrights. He hopped a freight to get to Port Allegany, and walked from the tracks to the high school. I suppose he got back to Wrights the same way.

The train slowed at the Wrights crossing so sacks of outgoing mail could be dropped off and outgoing mail sacks could be grabbed, using a hook arrangement. There were stops to leave and collect freight, too, I believe.

I remember steam locomotives front and back, chugging northward and southward through the Portage Valley and leaving their earthbound contrails of dark smoke. I remember the sulfurous coal smoke scent. I remember their whistles, sometimes shrieking dramatically, sometimes hooting succinctly. Diesel locomotives never spoke that way.

Coal-fired locomotives were referred to as engines, as I recall, but the ones in back were called pushers. I remember the labored sound of long trains getting over Keating Summit. These sights, sounds and smells are part of my memories of the Wrights school.

Diesels were in use the year an army worm infestation destroyed forage and other crops at Valley View Dairy Farm. We took our cattle down to the Round Barn farm, also owned by our family. Until then we had used it for crop land, and hay and silage storage in the barn.

Hastily built fences created pasture on the hay fields, where after-growth could be grazed. Dad moved the vacuum pump and Surge milkers down and fitted out a milk house for temporary use.

The Round Barn stable had been designed for Will Sawyer’s Guernseys and Jerseys, not long-bodied Holsteins. The milking head adapted easily to their slots in the Round Barn’s arced stable, business ends far apart and heads stanchioned close together, easily fed their chop feed, ensilage and hay because of the proximity. But the back feet stood on the far side of the gutter! This made stable sanitation quite challenging.

We had not anticipated one aspect of the new range our cattle would occupy: their reaction to trains!

Mantz and Sawyer farms’ herds along Route 155 and the tracks were used to the trains. Across the Portage Kinney and Seyler and Stomberg cattle had grown up near the noisy railroad. But Valley View’s Holsteins had not seen trains, and had heard them only from a distance.

The first time our herd was in a field at the Round Barn place when a train came through, the cattle were terrified of the whistling, roaring, smoke belching dragon. They stampeded, running parallel to the track, as if trying to outrun the monster. The ran pell-mell through the fence, dragging part of it along.

Somehow the cattle were got into the barn and the fence was repaired.  Even inside the barn, the cattle strained at the stanchions and trembled when trains went through. They were “off their feed” for a few days, and gave little milk.

Dad or I had to be with the cattle when trains went through, for maybe a week after the move. They clustered around, some with eyes rolling in fear, some with heads down as if in surrender, and we talked to them until train sounds had receded. When we were able to take the cattle back to Valley View, they seemed glad to be back home.

Later another owner used the Round Barn as a dairy barn. Probably the cattle became used to trains. And by then, there were far fewer trains.

Another reader wrote a few months ago that we need to “get back to having passenger trains” and that a lot of highway freight traffic could be diverted to rails. It seems those ideas are getting some traction in government circles.


To a couple of readers who had problems with the woodchuck column, sorry about the beverage getting spluttered all over your keyboard; and that loss of bladder control could happen to anyone.




We expect a lot of our police.

They expect a lot of themselves, too.

We might think our police don’t have a lot to do, most of the time, because we don’t have that much crime.

They are involved if there’s a big drug bust. And they have to be there is there’s a bad accident. We want them to be available in case there’s a violent altercation.

Otherwise, many of us picture the local police department members riding around on patrol, or sitting in the office at the police station waiting for a call.

That would square with what the older members of the community remember about the need for local police protection over the years.

We remember there being one police officer, who was referred to as “The Chief.” Let’s see, was one Chief Causer? “Bozo”? Was one Chief Hatch?

The Chief used to walk around in the business section. He checked to see if doors to stores and businesses had been locked, and notified owners if he found any that weren’t. I don’t remember how he was reached if someone wanted to call him.

In later years we would see police toting radios and realize they could be summoned while out and about. There were silent alarm arrangements that would ring or flash at the police station, when it was out on West Mill. Break into the bank or a pharmacy or other protected place, and the police would know right away.

Police would look in at the bars, routinely. They watched for speeders and people who ran red lights and stop signs. Officer Knell pulled over speeders on North Main, warning some and ticketing some, and it did seem to encourage motorists to honor our posted limits, or at least come closer.

Domestic violence hasn’t been “against the law” all that long. But now that it is, a good number of the calls to local police are about situations that used to be categorized as “family matters,” and thus not police matters.

Now it is understood far better that assault is assault. Persons who are part of the same household are no more entitled to hit or shove or threaten or harm each other than are who persons who don’t live together. “Friends” who argue with, threaten or assault each other are no more entitled to do so than are strangers.

So local police are called in connection with what used to be thought of as “squabbles.” Domestic violence is a police matter. Millions of former victims of domestic disputes can testify to the importance of enforcing the laws relating to those ugly, scary, often injurious and sometimes fatal crimes. A look at the local police log tells us that those incidents are all too frequent in our peaceful, law-abiding community.

The downside of the increased recognition of domestic disputes having the potential for criminal charges is that there seems to be an increasing perception of family disagreements in general as being police matters.

“My kid won’t behave!” says a parent. Or the complaint might be “My daughter is getting unwanted calls on her cell!” or “My ex keeps calling me and I told him to quit!” and “She didn’t bring our son back after ‘visitation’!”

Local police try to deal with these problems, patiently, respectfully. Many of those problems have solutions, or at least potential sources of help, outside the law enforcement arena. Police speak to complainants, visit the home, encourage compliance with court orders or agreements concerning custody, urge fighting domestic partners or former couples to go to neutral corners (part company at least for the time being). They make referrals, recommend calling Children and Youth, point out that lawyers can be of help or courts are supposed to resolve such matters.

So beyond their lawful power and duty to enforce standing court orders (and yes, police can and should do so), local police are often called upon to act as if there were court orders when there aren’t any, or make up the law on the spot, because people are disagreeing.

The easiest thing to do would be to say, “That’s not a police matter,” and let it go at that. But I notice that our police go the extra mile of making referrals; and they also apply the “influence” they have as officers of the law, to “encourage” people to use common sense and decency, and to seek “civil” avenues of dispute resolution, from counseling to sobering up to just agreeing to disagree without being criminally disagreeable.

“Bozo” and other local police didn’t have a curfew to enforce, back in the day (or the night, I should say). Short of murder and mayhem, they could not charge the  people who were involved in “domestics.” Before tough child abuse laws were passed, severe and even injurious “discipline” was not a police matter, but we now know some of it was child abuse and we now know it can be treated as a crime.

Law enforcement has expanded and requires more time now, just as the need for jail capacity has expanded because there are more arrests and more convictions.

Do people drink and fight and fuss and carry on and run their mouths and trash talk more than they used to? I’m thinking, probably not.

But there are more ways to communicate and so more ways to fight and bad-mouth and threaten than there used to be. More behaviors are classed as crimes. We now have ordinances about curfew and dog behavior and sidewalk shoveling; and we want the police to enforce all the real laws and some that are imaginary.




One of the greatest things about this job is having people with knowledge just up and supply it. Ask a question in this space, and somebody out there has answers and is kind enough to share them with us. I get to pass them on and call it writing my column.

Howie typed this in a beautiful two-pager that came in the mail:

I got caught up in your comments about the old Pennsylvania Railroad section gangs because my father was a part of one of them.  I suppose I could submit this but I’m giving it to you so that you can add to it.

I believe that each section was about ten miles long. I base that on the fact that each section had a track walker and that was my father’s last position. His route was from Port Allegany to Larrabee, but I don’t really know where Port Allegany began.

If my memory isn’t too clouded by some Maryland Rye I think the foreman for the Liberty to Port was George Botera. I remember the Port foremen as Fred Rassman and later Ernest Peterson—Richie’s father.

I am sorry I can’t remember all the Port crew but they included John Carlson, Rhinhart Johnson, Ernest Winterquist, Fred Gustafson and a couple of others (probably Swedes!).

These men were responsible for the maintenance of their “section” of the railroad. The track walker actually walked the track every day. He carried a couple of rail spikes, a spiking maul, an iron open end wrench about 18 inches long and a few large nuts and bolts.

These last were used to bolt the plates that held the rail together. If it was a minor problem the walker could put in a new bolt or drive in a new spike. More serious problems such as replacing rail or a cross tie was left to the crew. This intensive maintenance allowed the trains to travel at high speeds with the confidence that the track was in good condition. Since there were lots of trains and the only time repairs could be made was between trains, these gangs had to be fast and efficient.

One of the duties of the crew was keeping the switches open. Switches were the devices that allowed sections or cars of the trains to be removed from the main line to a different track or “siding.” A siding is a short section of track where cars are placed that contain merchandise slated for a particular customer. One has recently been installed at Two Mile to handle machinery and equipment related to the new drilling industry.

These switches had a habit of freezing in the cold months and I remember many times when Dad had to go out in the middle of the night to clean the switches. At that time everything came by rail and there were switches for the Pierce Bottle Plant, The American Extract, The Railway Express and the Tannery, so there was lots of work.

When you consider that the track walker actually walked about 20 miles every day you can believe that it took a strong man to do it. Most of these men were former woodsmen and were used to brutal labor.

I remember the man who replaced my father when he was no longer able to work. He lived in Turtlepoint and his name was Phillipe Italliano. By the time Phillipe was replaced the system had become motorized and the crew and track walker traveled in a pickup modified to travel on rails.

I recall a tool shed that was located beside the tracks about where the Route 6 bridge spans the tracks. It was beside Fred Rassman’s house. Some place around here I have a picture of that gang and if I ever find it I’ll give it to you.

I knew all these men and am surprised that I remember so many! If I remember anything else I’ll let you know.

Now I am thinking that my dad must have known some of those men.  When he was a very young man he worked on the section a while.  I remember a cap he had that came from those days, and a particular set of overalls my parents called railroad clothes.  There were a lantern and a dinner bucket that were associated with that work, too.

There are others with some of these memories, so I’ll watch and listen for their input. Meanwhile I am grateful to my good colleague for his. He never ceases to amaze.

While surfing for spellings of Larrabee I came across this mention in a wonderful old history: “Larrabee post-office (usually spelled Larabee) was established in August, 1852, and Ransome Larrabee appointed master. The settlement became a place of importance in the fall of 1874, when the railroad builders gathered around the junction of the McKean & Buffalo, with the Buffalo, New York & Philadelphia and the R. N. & P…”

The book is “History of the Counties of McKean, Elk, and Forest, Pennsylvania,” by M.A. Leeson, J.H. Beers & Company.

To a couple of other readers: I loved the input about how police were dispatched back in the day, and how mercy was granted to a woodchuck, deserved or not—but I have to defer sharing those until another column. Meanwhile, as little Oliver said, “Please…may I have some more?”




This came via e-mail from a fellow farm girl, June Blauser, sometime since the annual "woodchuck column."  I inserted a little delay.  But obviously we are still experiencing "woodchuck weather," so it is timely enough.

"I was going to send you this story last week, but I don't always get things accomplished in a timely manner."

"Anyway, one summer's day on the farm, my dad and the Assistant County Agent, John Brockett, managed to corner a woodchuck in a sluice pipe.  Now, since neither had a weapon of mass destruction with them, dad yelled for me to bring the .410 (a shotgun dad thought was an appropriate gift for my 16th birthday -- what was he thinking!!).  So, I grabbed the .410 and rushed to their aid.

"However, when I arrived on the scene, dad told me to shoot the woodchuck.  I raised the gun, and saw the critter looking at me.  That's when I wimped out, and couldn't pull the trigger.  I told dad I couldn't do it, and his reply was, 'give me the [expletive] gun!' and that was the end of the woodchuck.  The good old days of farm life.  haha"

I can imagine that scene.  If memory serves,, June's dad was John Gordon, a good dairy farmer and a member of several farm organizations.  I remember him as a leader in the milk producers' marketing agencies.

Also from the e-mailbox, here's one from the reader and contributor with a lot of local history in his noggin, George Todd:

"In one of your articles the question was brought up as to how the police was summoned in early years.

"At one time the Bell Telephone office and all the operators were located over M.D. Schwartz's Dry Goods Store (now Mid Town Bar).  [When assistance by] the police was needed, people called the operator and she in turn would switch on a red lights that hung in front and at the top of the building.  When the officer saw this or was notified it was lighted,, he in turn would go to the nearest phone and call the operator for the information."

I might state, after reading the nature of most of the recent calls, they could be taken care of by the parent at that time with no fear legal action."

Quite a few people have expressed similar thoughts to me.  One said, "Kids act the way they do now because parents are the way they are.  I hear that kids don't pay attention.  But are parents paying attention to their kids?  Do they know what their kids are doing online and with their cells?"

As for police keeping an eye on the former Schwartz store building, I believe they still do, to some extent; but now they are summoned there from time to time by a member of the Mid Town staff or some other person who is aware of a fracas in, in front of or behind the place.  And when I see references to such events, in the blotter, I want to ask all the combatants, "When's the last time you read about a dinner fight?  Or a pizza shop fight?"

Returning a moment to woodchucks, were you as thrilled as I was to receive a mailer saying "It's a Gas to Play with Gus"?

This tri-fold mail piece, sealed with a bead of the stretchy stuff, opens to reveal this legend: "Six Months Worth of Savings.  How Lucky Can You Get?"

Below are six cut-part, bar-coded coupons, to be used where people buy Pennsylvania lottery tickets.  Five of them bear a likeness of a woodchuck.  Well, I guess it is supposed to be a woodchuck.

Apparently Gus is the name of the woodchuck.  And the woodchuck is the Pennsylvania lottery mascot?

This woodchuck looks like a stuffed woodchuck.  And I have been known to suggest that the only good woodchuck is a dead one - and I suppose if some of the dead ones are preserved in some, um, decorative form, though the taxidermist's art, they still qualify as good, being good and dead.  Also, I believe I have even suggested that woodchucks should get, um, taxidermed.

But don't you think it's pathetic that an arm of the state government (analogous to the amputated arm of a one-armed bandit, and every bit as willing to pay off) has decided that the most worthy symbol of our fair commonwealth is a mangy, marauding, meddle-some marmot?

To save money, Gus and his managers want us to use one of these coupons a month when we buy lottery tickets, spending in the process at least $25 on tickets and getting $12 worth of bonus tickets.  No money, not cash back, not a discount on our purchase, but additional "chances."

Sorry, Gus.  Without needing any luck at all, I'll save $25.  I won't buy those tickets I'd have to buy to get those other tickets.  I'll save a whole lot more by never buying anything from Gus and his kind.


E-mail martini@zitomedia.net.  Call 814.642.7552.