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Say Hello to my Little Friend

I don’t know who writes the headlines in The Huntsville Item, but I want to thank them for my favorite, which appeared recently over the photo of a woodland mammal that had taken a rabid stroll down Old Montgomery Road:

“Police Handle Unsavory Raccoon.”

This was just one of the pleasant surprises in recent weeks from my hometown paper, which my mother has mailed to me up here in Washington, D.C.

“How many damn policemen does it take to put down a  mad coon?” said my father while chatting with me over the phone. “Even without his glasses, Atticus Finch dropped a rabid dog with one rifle shot.”

“It takes four city policemen, one animal control officer,” I said. “And one reporter. But why ‘unsavory’? Why not ‘mad,’ ‘hydrophobic,’ ‘infected,’ ‘raging,’ or ‘diseased’? It’s not like he picked up rabies whoring around the projects. Why call the poor bastard’s reputation into question on the day he’s gunned down and on the front page for all his survivors to see?”

Answer: dead air — because Bob’s jokes are not funny. I moved on to another big story.

“Whose sick joke was it to send Calli Baker — I mean Dretke — to City Council to advocate for stop signs at the hospital on the same day she was indicted for intoxicated vehicular assault on a police officer?”

My mother, on the extension phone, sighed. “They really should be distancing themselves from her.”

By “they,” Mom meant Huntsville Memorial Hospital, where Dretke is known as “Baby CEO” as she serves an apprenticeship under Sally Nelson. Calli was a nice, smart young woman with a bright future until she was arrested in April after her Toyota SUV plowed into a Montgomery County BAT mobile and a couple of police cruisers, seriously wounding a sheriff’s deputy. The story went viral all over the Internet, where one site featured her as its “Drunk Twat of the Day.”

“I can’t believe what The Item has done to that sweet girl. They have just ruined Calli’s life, putting all that trash on the front page about her and the hospital when no one has even said she’s guilty yet,” Mom said. “And the hospital had nothing to do with it.”

“That being said —, ” Dad said.

“That being said, they should keep her out of the limelight,” Mom said. “It would be better for her given there are so many people around like you, Bob, and The Huntsville Item. And you see what Sally Nelson’s done to them. There’s not a single hospital ad in their newspaper any more.”

“Mother, Calli could have killed that cop,” I said.

“But she didn’t, Bob,” my mother said. “Are you going to tell me you’ve never driven when you’d had too much to drink? Because I know you know I know better. It was an accident. She didn’t mean to do it.”

Were the diluted urine samples she submitted to the court as a condition of her bond also an accident?

“How should we know?” my father said. “Who knows what goes on in a lab in another county.”

I reminded them that a Montgomery County SWAT team showed up at HMH, arrested Calli, and took her back across county lines to jail.

There’s another headline that could have been using the raccoon template: “Police handle unsavory hospital executive.”

“So,” I said, changing the subject, “whose signs do you have in the front yard this election season?”

“Mitt’s,” my father said. “Period.”

Last year, some guerrilla band of foul-mouthed assholes stole out in the dead of night to deface the campaign signs of the chamber of commerce-approved slate with the slogan: “This whole town’s a pussy that I’m going to fuck.” Derived from Tony Montana’s line in “Scarface”: “This is paradise, I’m tellin’ you. This town’s like a great big pussy just waitin’ to get fucked.”

My mother is very sensitive on this subject: “That had George Russell’s fingerprints all over it. I mean, who else could it have been? Those filthy stickers!”

“But what did it mean?” I said. “Was it announcing plans for revenge or were they saying that the plunderers that just got elected were looking at Huntsville as a big, wet —”

“Don’t be disrespectful, Bob,” Dad said.

Headline: “Inept Police Might Have Handled Unsavory Vandals.”

This act of vandalism is why, my father explained, The Powers That Be are wary of running another slate — their signs could end up tagged again with something disgusting and then what would voters remember — that these candidates were hapless victims of clever vandals or that their signs had sported filth?

“The voters are the ones hurt by these shenanigans — how will they know who to vote for if we don’t line them up and make it simple?” Mom said. “How will they know who’s friendly and who isn’t?”

“Trust me. They’ll know. Honest people don’t need ‘friendly’ government; they just need a working one,” I said.

“Oh, Bob, get off your damn soapbox,” my father said. “We all get along now. It’s not like it was. We’ll leave the slating to the other side. We’ll see what birds flock together. And then everyone will know who to vote against.”

This year, the slate is made easy with a simple principle —to tax or not to tax.  On Sept. 11, most of the City Council will have voted for a 4-cent tax increase, judging by what they’ve said in The Item, while the imcumbents’ opponents have argued against it.

“You know, I was talking to Stew—”

“Oh, him,” my mother said.

“And he was just flabbergasted that in conservative little Huntsville,  the City Council would pass the first tax increase in ten years to save the city’s art programs and give raises to its employees. I mean, how progressive is that? It’s like Huntsville has been taken over by Jerry Brown and a bunch of West Coast liberals.”

More dead air on the other end of the line. So I pressed on.

“So who are these guys running against Don Johnson and Keith Olson, and what can their arguments against a tax increase be?”

“They don’t have any. They just don’t want anyone around here to make any money,” my dad said.

But that didn’t compute. Joe Rodriquez, the retired FBI agent running against Johnson, hardly seemed to be a communist. Even Kendall Scudder, the guy in the suspenders and a student at the local institution of higher learning, seemed to be a capitalist. Didn’t The Item post video of him shaking his stuff at a chamber of commerce fundraiser? And how would a tax increase earmarked for higher employee salaries and benefits help Huntsville’s movers and shakers make more money?

“Is there some sort of code I don’t understand here? Is that tax increase really for an economic development slush fund that the city’s crafty accountants will hide in a tangle of line items with cryptic names? To quote ‘Scarface’ again, ‘Nothing exceeds like excess.’ ”

“Poor boy, you were always paranoid,” Dad said. “Moving to D.C. with the tin-foil hat crowd has only made you worse.”

“We’ve got to go, Bob,” Mom said. “Bill Clinton speaks in ten minutes.”

“Holy shit. Did you just say ‘Bill Clinton’?”

“Yes, Paul Ryan told us to watch.”

Headline: “Unsavory Democrat lures in Paul Ryan’s base.”

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