The Bees’ Nest

By Jim Hagarty
Punn Ditt Inc.

I spent many years as a reporter and editor at small town newspapers. I was in the business of journalism, a profession (some claim it’s a trade) that is currently under fire by the new U.S. president and his administration.

You might say, “Well, Jim, you weren’t really a journalist, out taking photos of Santa Claus parades and ribbon cuttings at new factories.” Fair point. But a mechanic is a mechanic, whether he’s working on your ’95 Chevy in a little shop on a back street or the next major craft to head into outer space. The principles define an occupation, not the size of the project those principles are applied to.

So here is one example of my doing something other than Santa photos.

In the town where I was editor of the small weekly newspaper, the local police force was an ungodly mess. The police chief was battling on a near daily basis with the members of the local town council. They thought they were his boss, he thought they weren’t. I won’t take you through all the ridiculous ways this epic fight played out, but here is one example. To punish the chief, town council stopped giving him money. So when he went to renew the licence sticker on one of the town’s two cruisers, he could not get the funds to do it. So, he instructed one of his police officers to drive down the street outside the town hall in the cruiser on the day after the licence expired, and when the officer did, the chief followed him in the other cruiser and pulled him over. He gave his own officer a ticket for having an out-of-date licence plate. The fine (and the new sticker fee) went to council, the members of which lost their minds.

There are a bunch of other examples of tricks the chief played to get at his overseers and the punishments town council levelled on him to bring him into line, none of which worked very well. Eventually, he was not allowed to drive the cruiser at all and a bylaw was passed, detailing his specific duties. He was, by law, to patrol, on foot, a one-block area of the downtown all day. And in so doing, he was not to go into restaurants or coffee shops and engage in “idle chatter or gossip.” How he was supposed to get downtown without the use of a cruiser was not spelled out.

I was kind of in the middle of all this and truth be told, my sympathies were more with the police department than the town council. I tried to be fair in my coverage but it was not easy.

Eventually, I got wind of the possibility that the province of Ontario was going to send in special inspectors to try to sort all this out. I forget how I got this idea but I think one of the friendly cops on the force let me know about it.

One day, I was sitting in a restaurant when I saw a local cop take a phone call on a public pay phone at the back. When he was done, and gone from the place, I went back to the phone and saw a pad of paper there, on which the officer had written something. He tore off the top sheet before he left. I ripped off the page that had been under that top page, took it back to the office and shaded it in with a pencil. The imprint left there after the shading was, “Police Commission” followed by a phone number.

I phoned the number. A clerk took my number and soon my phone was ringing with a very angry provincial police inspector on the line. He wanted to know how I got his number. I wouldn’t say.

He set up a meeting with me in another local restaurant for the next day. When I showed up, there were two inspectors. I asked them why they were coming to the town and what they planned to do there. They went ballistic. They yelled and screamed at me and threatened me with all the things that were going to happen to me if I didn’t drop this snooping. I am not exactly Mr. Courageous at the best of times, but I knew my journalistic principles and I stood my ground. I asked them their names, as a way of reminding them that I would be holding THEM to account. They got nervous but wouldn’t even tell me who they were. They wouldn’t answer any questions I had about why they were coming to town or about any of the fighting between the town council and the police. They were only concerned about how I had found out about this inspection. They wanted to punish whoever it was had let me know about it, and punish me.

Soon, the bigger media in the area got involved. TV stations, daily newspapers and even large provincial and national entities. It became, for the larger outlets, a sort of “oddities in the news” story. My phone started ringing. Other journalists were pumping me for information but I didn’t cooperate. They wanted to make me a part of the story. I told them to get the story on their own, the way I had. And they did. Most seemed to take the side of the police chief over the town council. It seemed to them (as it did to me) to be an open and shut case of small town vindictiveness at work.

Eventually, the bigger media lost interest and went away. The police inspectors held their hearings. I forget the ins and outs – it was a long time ago. But the bottom line was the chief was retired and the whole system of law enforcement in the town was re-organized.

spicer

My point, you ask. Surely to God there is a point. I hope there is.

A journalist’s job, and he might be very clumsy at it, is to get at the truth of any situation which affects the public. The more authorities try to stop a journalist from getting to that truth, the harder he will fight to uncover it. To a journalist, attempts by those in power to intimidate him are just points of evidence that there is something, and maybe a lot of things, to hide. So most journalists will double their efforts to get to the bottom of things, given all the limitations they face.

But it often seems that elected officials and permanent bureaucrats see it as their job to keep the public in the dark about matters, even issues that don’t need to be kept secret. To my mind, in fact, they often seem particularly stupid about it all.

On the first day of journalism school, every student is taught this one, immovable fact. Public officials are public “servants”, not there as overlords but as employees of the public. A journalist who absorbs that lesson well, will not be corrupted and stray too far from his mission.

And ironically, elected officials who also recognize their real place in the scheme of things also fare pretty well in the long run and operate open and transparent administrations.

In most cases, attempting to hustle something dirty past a journalist’s nose is like trying to sneak the dawn past a rooster.

Good luck with that, Sean Spicer. You and Donald Trump will lose. You are poking a bees’ nest. If I were you, I would start running.

Taking My Measure

Taking My Measure

Happiness isn’t measured
By the sum of all my years.
The measure of fulfillment
Is the thoughts between my ears.

Contentment can’t be quantified
By counting laughs and tears.
The measure of contentment
Is the thoughts between my ears.

It’s not the number of great acts
That bring me fame and cheers.
The only measurement that counts
Is the thoughts between my ears.

‘Cause between those two ears of mine
Is a finely tuned machine
That can make my days a nightmare
Or complete my wildest dreams.

And if somehow I find success
Much greater than my peers.
I will still be left alone to face
The thoughts between my ears.

  • Jim Hagarty

The Lucky Snow Day

By Jim Hagarty
2017

Some guys have all the luck.

Like the man in Oregon who got lucky three times.

First of all, Joemel Panisa woke up one day last month to a heck of a snowstorm. So, lucky for him, he got the day off work. And if it hadn’t snowed so heavily, the next two lucky incidents probably wouldn’t have happened.

Joemel decided to use his day off in a way I wouldn’t have thought to do. Before I retired, a day off for me usually meant couch time, potato chips and TV. But not good old Joemel. He decided for some reason to get busy and clean his house. I feel sorry for the guy as he does not own a self-cleaning house like I have.

While he was straightening up his office, Mr. Panisa found an envelope with a lottery ticket inside. It was almost a year old. He showed it to his wife who got busy and found out that the ticket was a winning one. Stroke of luck number two.

And not only was the ticket a winner, it was worth $1 million.

But here’s the REALLY lucky part. The ticket would have expired in eight days. If he hadn’t claimed it on time, the money would have been sent to Oregon’s Economic Development Fund.

So Mother Nature came through for Joemel. No snow, no million dollars.

If that happened to me, and I didn’t get the ticket in on time, my family would be lucky if I didn’t climb up on the roof and do a header onto the patio.


On a related note, a few Canadian lottery tales to tell.

  1. Years ago, when the big lottery prizes got going, a woman in Alberta went to her husband and told him she had had a multi-million dollar ticket but had thrown it in the garbage. The man hired an excavation company to go through the local landfill with a bulldozer and earth mover to see if the ticket could be found. After a few days, the woman told her husband she had found a piece of paper with the ticket’s numbers on it and the ticket was not a winner after all. The landfill excavation bill was over $200,000. I sure hope for better and for worse kicked in for that couple.

  2. A truck driver near Toronto secretly bought a lottery ticket, hoping for some help in paying for his unemployed wife and her several unemployed brothers who had moved in and lounged around the man’s house all day. He checked his numbers and realized he had won a big-time prize, in the millions. The next morning, he said goodbye to his wife and brothers-in-law, got in his truck, drove to Toronto to pick up his winnings and just kept on driving.

  3. Another man near Toronto also secretly bought a ticket and realized he had won multi millions. When he bought the ticket, he and his wife were still together but they soon separated. The man waited till the day before his ticket was to expire and then talked his ex-wife into meeting him in a local motel. She agreed and they made sweet love. She still knew nothing about the lottery win. The next morning, the man took off for Toronto to collect his money. But in Ontario, to collect on a ticket of that size, you have to agree to some publicity which the devious husband had no choice but to go for. His ex-wife saw the news about her husband’s big prize and sued him for half of it. She argued in court that they were still together when he bought the ticket and therefore, she should get half. The judge agreed. I can’t imagine why she divorced him.

Pizza Affective Disorder

By Jim Hagarty
2012

I am a moody guy sometimes and my mood often coincides with the number of pizza slices left in the box on pizza night at our place. If they disappear too quickly before I can get my share, my mood is inclined to decline.

That is why today I was in an upbeat state of mind when I found out that my son and my daughter would not be home for supper and that my wife would be late. So, by mid-afternoon my plan was clear: I would sneak off to the pizza shop about 4:30 and return with a piping hot pie which I would enjoy all by myself. Just the very thought of this impending gorgefest made me smile – my very own pizza and pop, in front of the TV, watching shows I rarely see when the house is fully occupied.

I made sure to get the pizza early so that if someone did unexpectedly return home, all of it would be long gone. I have no conscience when it comes to pizza.

I drove to the restaurant and waited in the van while the pizza guy cooked me up a delicious meal. I drove home happily, the smell of the cheese and pepperoni filling my vehicle and my heart with joy. I walked into the house and set the box on the kitchen counter, joking cheerily with the dog and salivating at the great taste about to infiltrate my mouth.

Then I saw him. My son, sitting on the couch, surfing the net on his laptop.

“Oh, you’re home,” I said, trying to disguise my chagrin. “You’re in luck. I brought home a pizza. Help yourself.” As I said that, I was calculating how much of the pie I would now get. It was, after all, just a medium. Two minutes later, the phone rang. On the line was my daughter who said she was coming home and bringing a friend.

“Have you had supper?” I asked. “No,” was the reply. “Well, there’s a pizza here.”

Now, three young people would be attacking my pizza and I knew from experience, that could mean only one thing – not one morsel would be left for me. I had gone, in a few minutes, from a happy guy anticipating his own pizza and pop in front of the TV in a house all by myself to a silently starving, defeated man sizing up the remaining supper choice which involved bread and peanut butter and milk.

I know I will smile again someday, but as of now, my heart is broken. Sliced in eight pieces, you might say.