Gluttons for Punishment or How I Live to Piss You Off

“I’m discusted by you. I dislike your wife. This abhorrent poetry and these redundant comments are becoming tire-some. I’m fed up.”
(All spelling and grammatical errors are property of the quoted parties.)
Ok, seriously. Who is obsessed now? Who keeps coming back for more? Looks to me like if you hated it all that much, you wouldn’t come back every day to read more. Come on, hit refresh! I dare you. At least have the guts to comment and let everybody read just how nasty you are. I say my piece and publish it to the world, and the world can choose to read it or ignore it. Your whining and pathetic comments reach only as far as your self-serving circle of co-dependent lemmings.
And let me spell it out for you just in case you weren’t sure. This post IS about you 😉
Go on, get mad. Post some inane away message on instant messager and let it all out. It’s such an effective tactic. So well-thought and clever. Bravo. Boy you really set my heart a-racing with each new literary dig you conjure up. Go ahead, pat yourself on the back; you deserve it.
But I guess I can’t really blame you, you’re only following the example you’ve been given. And oh what a precious and spotless one it is. One so much above reproach – how dare I stand in opposition to the “pastor” who said this?
“You use other people’s lives to cover up The lies in your own so you don’t have to take accountability for your actions, your free to bash, trash, and hurt whom ever you wish because everyone crapped on you, you’re the only one with a sincere case here. You did nothing, you sat back like a coward in silence. You use everyone for the landfill of your soul and then you act like you are the victim why you sat back and judged what you thought you know, oh I forgot we do know what each other is going through. What a joke, your void of reality, truth, and relationships and of course that is everyone else’s doing while you have sat on the throne of pomposity and arrogance, raising your scepter of acceptance or rejection, the very thing you claim you hate you have become, but after all you’re the smart one and everyone else. Is not you.”
Wow. And you bless your God with that same mouth. How holy and pious you all are. I bow to your consecrated betterness.

Does the Message Trump the Method?

Delivery is probably the most important part of the message. It determines whether you’ve correctly assessed your audience and your level of dedication to having your opinion considered. If you deliver your message in such a way as to offend the listeners, they may come to hate your message instead of embrace it. So, the question is, are you willing to speak to your audience in a way they will hear and respect, thereby convincing them and persuading them of your argument? Or is the only proper delivery for an arguable message a contentious one? Or does the message trump the method?
For example, yesterday on my way through the Liberty tubes during morning rush hour, there were anti-abortion activists on every corner wielding 6 x 3 foot graphic billboards of aborted babies. Severed baby heads pinched between forceps. Bloodied dismembered baby arms and legs. Infant images dwarfing the grown men and women parading them. “Abortion at 20 weeks, Abortion at 30 weeks,” they informed an unwilling and involuntary audience.
If you know anything about the Liberty tubes during rush hour, you know that the average sit-time just outside the entrance is roughly 20 minutes. For 20 minutes, mutilated dead babies assaulted my sensibilities. What’s worse – my five-year-old daughter was inflicted as well. How do I help her purge those images from her mind? How do I purge them from my own? How do I – how can anyone – support an anti-abortion mentality when it looks like that?
The thing about graphic images is that in most cases people are given an opt-out. You can choose to watch the censored TV version if you want to avoid all the blood and guts. You can put nanny-control on your computer to alleviate the offensive and potentially disturbing pop-ups. Even email programs provide the option of displaying or hiding images. Movies have ratings so that you know whether you’re willing to commit when you enter the theater. The point about it all is that you can CHOOSE. You can subject yourself to as many or as few disturbing images as you like. And to be honest, I feel like these activists exploited their right to free speech and expression violating my right to filter the garbage that enters my head.
Does the (potential, questionable, uncertain) end justify the (overbearing, patronizing, exploitive) means?
Communication is a two-way street. If you just hurl your beliefs at people with no thought for how or whether they can catch them, you might as well chuck a brick off the Eiffel tower and pray you don’t wallop a pedestrian. If you want to persuade people to your mindset, you have to woo them, seduce them. Give them something they want to agree with. I for one, don’t want to agree with anything having to do with maimed babies. They’ve lost one. I could have voiced my stance in favor of their cause, but not now.
So what’s important, the pure message? The message beats all, come what may? As long as you say your piece, collateral damage can rot?
I don’t buy it.

Skin Deep

The outside trumps the inside right now. But only thanks to the mountains of boxes inside and the ever elusive tweezers. Beneath that veneer of clutter and disorganization, inner radiance is bound to peak through.
Check out Casey’s photos of flowers from our front yard.
Even still, favorite things about the house so far:
1. Windows open, stay open, and are screened for bug deterrence. This is new and beautiful as we have had less than harmonious relationships with our windows in the past.
2. Everything about the outside, including off-street parking.
3. When we close the house, it’s actually closed and the wind doesn’t sneak in around every crack and cockeyed window frame – because there aren’t any. In short, I’m adjusting to not living in a wind tunnel.
4. We have a compost pile. We don’t get municipality citations about it.
5. The toilet does its job without coaxing, bribes, or regular beatings.
6. I don’t have to crouch in the shower because it knows its place.
Those are just the love at first sight traits. I’m sure deeper, more meaningful connections will ensue.


Here we are. New house. Mountains of boxes. Can’t find the tweezers.
A run to the local grocery store is like a day trip to an amusment park. Banksville Road sucks out my soul thrice weekly and delivers it up soggy and wrung out for another go round on Monday. I think Mt. Lebanon sits on the cul de sac of the South Hills of Pittsburgh – one way in; one way out.
The house and I are still in the courting phase; it might be awhile before we take it to the next level. It’ll probably be longer before I quit saying “home” about Vandergrift and apply it to Mt. Lebanon instead.
The kids got to play outside in the fenced-in back yard today. And I didn’t have to stay out there with them. They played by themselves, and they were fine. In the fenced-in back yard, all by themselves. I stayed inside, by myself. Without the kids. It was cool.
So far, it’s pretty good.

Where are the Saints?

Somewhere a man, a rough and brawling man
lays in the gutter where you left him
choking on the bile in your heart.
He lays there waiting, wondering,
“Where are the saints?” he whispers into the rain.
Indeed, I echo, where are the saints
to feed
to clothe
to befriend
to visit
to comfort
these tossed by the Prince of the World?
They, those title-mongering priests, drown
in a bottle of something meant for sinners.
They burn in their country chalets
with passions not for the Lord.
They stoke hedonistic temptations
that threaten to self-destruct.
Religion, Oh God! Where are you in this occult?
They’ve warped your words and stricken your truths,
melded them into hypocrisy.
Strangling the freedom you bestowed,
they pontificate religious fervor.
Holier than thou, instead of
Holiest art Thou is the vestment
of that chapel.
Down this shabby street,
Down and down into a rut,
Mired in self-loathing,
You drove the man whispering into the rain.
“Where are your saints now?”
that Prince spits in his ear.
He used to be one of them
until they betrayed him.
Crippled by fear, you ministers
whine and coddle perceived offenses.
Withholding your gifts
from those with the least,
You save another sinner from Heaven.

The End

Like disposable bits of society,
Now you are just
Some ones I knew once.
Like the ottoman in the corner,
Kicked between
Revolving second guests.
They spend a minute
To suck out blood, now
Every one I’ve known is dead.
A silent, stoic phone
Rings less and less,
Its tone no longer needed.
Calls don’t come;
No stopping in, no more.
It’s over.

By Popular Request…

I decided to post the letter I wrote to the town’s officials. Here it is:
April 6, 2007
Re: Property located at
——- Avenue
Vandergrift, PA 15690
Dear Respected Vandergrift Officials:
I am writing in response to a letter I recently received from Code Enforcement Officer, Melissa A. Holmes. In her letter, she informed me that the property I inhabit, located at ——- Avenue, Vandergrift, PA, is in violation of an International Property Maintenance Code/2003. I was also given 15 days “to remedy the situation.”
The code in question is 302.1 Sanitation. It states:
All exterior property and premises shall be maintained in a clean, safe and sanitary condition. The occupant shall keep that part of the exterior property which such occupant occupies or controls in a clean and sanitary condition.
The offenses sited against this code are two bags and a pile of leaves I’ve kept in the front yard. I was instructed to place these items in the alley for trash removal. If I considered the leaves trash, I would have situated them for trash removal when I raked them. I do not consider them trash and have therefore let them remain where they are.
Also, Ms. Holmes informed me that I “have the right to appeal to the Borough of Vandergrift Appeals Board,” but in order to do this I “must complete the requisite forms and pay the Borough a fee for the appeal.” Filling out forms is fine if it means someone will listen and take me seriously. Paying a fee to have someone listen is altogether something different. Ms. Holmes’s letter named my ability to appeal a “right.” A right is something I’m due. Not something for which I write a check.
I dislike the posturing of this notice that basically gives me, the citizen, only three choices for action, none of which are satisfactory to me, and all of which benefit the borough or are at least in the borough’s favor. The way I see it, according to this letter, Option 1 is to concede that the leaves are indeed a hazard and “remedy the situation,” by which Ms. Holmes means to dispose of the leaves within 15 days or face prosecution for the violation. Option 2 (from a common understanding of the way this borough works) is to leave the leaves, be prosecuted for violation, let the borough dispose of the leaves and then pay them for their trouble. Option 3 is to appeal, but to do so, I have to again relieve my wallet of some of its load. None of these work for me. It seems that it’s your way or no way, but I am unwilling to pay for my right to disagree.
If people are expected to abide by the borough codes and ordinances, where are these mystical documents? I’ve never been privy to any written information about how one behaves and lives in this neighborhood, and I’ve lived here for 13 years. It’s unreasonable to have expectations of citizens without disclosing the expectations and then to penalize said citizens for failure to meet the expectation. It is flat out wrong to require me to bend to your wishes, pay for your wishes to be carried out by someone else, or pay for the right of having my voice and opinion considered. There are always two sides to a situation and according to the language in the letter from Ms. Holmes, her side of the situation is the right one because either I do what her letter says, or I pay. No matter which of the other options I select, they both come with a price tag.
Based on the language in that code, I’d venture to say that what we have here is merely differing interpretations of what constitutes “clean, safe and sanitary” conditions. The code included is not explicit in what is considered “clean, safe and sanitary.” As a result, I’m unconvinced of how we can then agree on its opposite – what is unclean, unsafe, or unsanitary. Ergo, upon what basis have my leaves been deemed not “clean, safe and sanitary?” I’m sure we can all agree on the intent of the code which is to keep a wholesome and respectable neighborhood for everyone. I think the dissonance occurs in that while Ms. Holmes seems to harbor undue fear and disgust of leaves, I do not. In fact, I consider them basically harmless and usually helpful.
Throughout the winter I used them for covering my flower bulbs and for packing around the base of new trees I planted last year. Through the summer I use them like a mulch to keep moisture in the ground next to my plants and to discourage weed growth. By these methods I avoid over-watering, the use of harmful weed-killers, and the cost of purchasing new mulch every season. It’s better for me; it’s better for my plants; it’s safer for my kids; and it’s beneficial to my little plot of the environment.
I’m not sure what other people keep in their leaves, but I simply keep leaves there, and maybe a stray twig or two. I have a hard time understanding what is unclean, unsafe, or unsanitary about that.
I have to say that compared to all the “clean, safe and sanitary conditions” I’ve seen ignored in Vandergrift on public and private properties, my innocuous collection of leaves hardly makes the list of things that should receive the attention and focus of a Code Enforcement Officer.
For example, our public playgrounds are disgusting, completely unusable, and a major tax-suck. Between the barren swing-set frames and the bumblebee infested tire swing and the rusty nails sticking up from broken and splintered wooden planks on the bouncy fire truck and car, I can’t even consider bringing my kids to play there. The sandbox has become a litter box to all the neighborhood stray cats; I’ve found used condoms and hypodermic needles just laying in the grass ; there are cigarette butts everywhere, and we’re lucky if the grass is mowed more than twice a month (and that’s just too infrequent when you’re 3 years old and the grass is higher than your pull-up).
Those are just the unclean, unsafe, and unsanitary conditions, to say nothing of the merely discomfort related conditions. There are no benches or shaded areas for parents; the water fountain hasn’t worked in more than 10 years; there are no bathrooms – not even a port-a-potty. How can you herd a gaggle of potty-training toddlers and yardapes to a park and not have to pee during the trip? Several times.
Additionally, I’d like to point out that this town has a serious litter problem. Several times a week – if not everyday – I have to clean up my yard from people walking by and depositing their trash on my property. Or the wind blows the trash into my yard from wherever it’s been last left. Either way, take a walk and see for yourself. My small compost pile is less of a factor in terms of public hazards than all the litter and trash on our streets and grassy areas.
Personally, I think someone should applaud my tiny efforts rather than slap me on the wrist for a perceived violation. It’s insulting to expect me to do away with something that is hurting no one and likely helping – in some small way – everyone. It’s insulting to be the target of a nit-picker for inconsequential minutiae when there are far worse things in this town that necessitate scrutiny. I encourage this borough to clean up and maintain its own backyard of public parks and playgrounds before criticizing and discouraging a citizen’s attempt at eco-savvy practices.
In conclusion and on principle I am, consequently, “disinclined to acquiesce to your request” (Captain Barbossa). In other words, I don’t want to move my pile or my bags of leaves. I have plans for them and I like them where they are.
Thank you for your concern and your attention in this matter.
Chastity M. West

Update: See Post “Out With a Bang”

I mailed letters to the Mayor, the council president, the Councilman of Recreation, the local newspaper, the town’s improvement program, and various other borough officials in response to the citation letter I received about my leaf pile. Additionally, I’ve ornamented my leaf pile with a wrought iron post and a sign that states, “Pending Dispute” because I don’t want borough workers coming around and thinking they can just rake it up and take it away. It’s my leaf pile and I like it where it is, thank you very much.
So we’ll see what happens. I’m thinking of copying the letter I wrote into this blog because I thought it was pretty damn good.
Stirring up strife
is the spice of life