A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

National Night Out

Today was "National Night Out" across the country, an annual event sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch (NATW), a non-profit organization "dedicated to the development and promotion of organized, law enforcement-affiliated crime and drug prevention programs."

NATW organized seven events in Springfield, mostly at parks and playgrounds around the city. The closest one to me was at Maple Commons Apartments, on the corner of School and High Streets, four blocks from my house. Press releases for the event instructed residents to "lock their doors, turn on outside lights and spend the evening outside with neighborhoods and police....Join us as we give crime a going away party."

Other neighborhoods advertised music, prizes, games, and the dispensing of crime-prevention information till 7, 8, or 9 o'clock at night. My neighborhood held its "Night Out" in broad daylight, from 3 to 5, and cautioned "do not print phone in paper." Kind of ominous.

I walked over about 4 o'clock to see what was what. One cruiser was parked at the curb. In the apartment parking lot, hot dogs were being roasted on a grill. About twenty-five people milled around, eating hot dogs, drinking sodas, all speaking Spanish. One uniformed officer stood near the grill.

Noone paid me any heed as I approached. I saw no cold drinks being dispensed, and no signs of any educational material. The cop didn't register my arrival. Finally I walked over to him--he was in a sargeant's uniform, but had no name badge. I asked if any cops on the beat were present.

No, he said...he only had six men, and they were scattered around at various other locations. I told him I had spoken with Officer Ray Gonzalez--my local cop on the beat--yesterday. That elicited no comment. He didn't thank me for showing up, ask me if I lived in the neighborhood, try to gauge my attitude toward, or experience with, crime or police activity in the neighborhood. Making conversation with him was like pulling teeth, so I just left. I guess I was there all of five minutes.

On the way home, I thought about all the grant money expended on this event, the salaries for bored and demoralized cops just going through the motions and getting paid to stand around. And then I thought about Jeanne McLain, spending thirteen hours last week cleaning up the vacant and neglected house across the street, though she had no idea who owned it. She was out there again sweeping up yesterday afternoon, and getting insulted for her trouble by some young toughs swaggering down the street.

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