Shooting at strangers

“unpaved private driveway is not lighted”

The three stories of men shooting at strangers who made mistakes of address or car make have troubled me more than I would have imagined.

In the local paper, the Times Union – it’s a local, as well as a national story – Chris Churchill describes the shooting at a car that mistakenly pulled up in the wrong driveway as “our deadly culture of fear.”

“Something is far more wrong if the immediate reaction is to grab a gun and begin firing. That leads to tragedy as heartbreaking as the death of a 20-year-old from Schuylerville who dreamed of becoming a marine biologist. Kaylin Gillis is described by those who knew her as ‘such a sweet girl, with a kind heart and big smile.'”

From the news story: “The lead slug that allegedly killed Gillis is designed to kill large game and is roughly three times bigger than a round fired by a handgun. [The accused, Kevin] Monahan likely would not need a permit to possess that firearm, according to multiple law enforcement sources.

“The unpaved private driveway is not lighted, and the only markers are mailbox numbers along the public road. The couple’s home sits at the top of the steep, curving driveway that hides its porch and the front entrance of the house from view. The property has several faded signs warning against trespassing.

“No one from the group had exited the car or tried to enter Monahan’s house… But as the car tried to turn around and leave to go back down the driveway, Monahan allegedly came out on his porch and fired twice — one of the rounds struck Gillis.”

Her friends desperately drove around in rural Washington County, seeking a  signal to call 911.

It’s a miracle

How 16-year-old Ralph Yarl survived being shot in the head by an 84-year-old homeowner after going to the wrong  Kansas City address seems nothing less than miraculous. There may be a racial component in this story.  The assailant reportedly shot Mr. Yarl a second time when he was already down.

Two cheerleaders,  Heather Roth, and Payton Washington, were shot in a Texas supermarket parking lot after one opened the door to the wrong vehicle. Ms. Washington was seriously wounded. These three events occurred within a week of each other.

Six-year-old Kinsley White of Gastonia, NC, was grazed on the cheek by a bullet after a man started shooting when a basketball rolled into his yard. This is, per a similar story, “the toxic stew of fear, paranoia, and distrust that influences so many and leads to violence.”

As a Boston Globe column points out,  There is no pro-life in a country that shoots its kids.

The Weekly Sift notes: “The NRA likes to say that ‘an armed society is a polite society’ (a quote Psychology Today critiqued last year). But these incidents make the opposite point: In an armed society, misunderstandings and trivial conflicts easily become life-threatening. In each of these cases, someone is dead or badly wounded because there was a gun involved. In each case, we can be thankful that no ‘good guy with a gun’ was ready to shoot back. Who knows what the body count would have been?”


Of course, it’s guns – it often is –  but it’s more than that. Stand-your-ground laws may affect the mentality of the citizenry, even in states such as New York, where the doctrine does not exist.

With so much societal violence, why did these stories resonate with me so much? Part of it is that I have a child in the age cohort of some victims.

Also, I think it’s a reflection of the loss of grace. I’ve been in cars that have turned into the wrong driveway several times.  Rural roads are challenging to navigate, especially at night.

About a decade ago, my daughter, her friend K, and I all started to get into a car at the 20 Mall near Albany in the evening. It LOOKED like my wife’s car. It was the make and model and a similar year. There was an unfamiliar woman in the driver’s seat. We all departed quickly, and I apologized. Subsequently, my wife pointed her car fob at the wrong vehicle more than once.

As someone who has worked the 1990 and 2020 Census and carried petitions for a judicial candidate, I was threatened once during each process, though no weapons were brandished.

I Googled “loss of social skills.” Articles are blaming the isolation from COVID and social media/technology. Many of the articles in the latter category long predate the pandemic.

An article about mental illness notes: “If we pursue proven measures designed to prevent access to firearms among people most at risk for perpetrating violence at their riskiest times, we will be moving significantly in the right direction.” Neither of the alleged shooters in Kansas City or upstate New York would have met the criteria for taking away their guns.

As is often the case, I don’t know how to fix this.

Asking for help; not my strong suit

Trader Joe’s

asking for helpThe last month of my wife’s medical sojourn had me contemplating my feeling about asking for help. As is often the case, I have rules, though they had not been codified until now.

First off, as someone who has never had a driver’s license, I pride myself on getting from here to there locally without asking for a ride. I’ll take a ride home from the choir or the Bible Guys’ breakfast when the company is good, but I don’t HAVE to do that to get home.

However, for my wife, who does drive but could not for most of October, I was perfectly willing to ask to get her from our house to the doctor and back. Can you move her car to the opposite side of the street?

(I’m not even sure I know how to operate her vehicle. It’s much larger than anything I ever drove when I had my seven driver’s permits. And there is no ignition key.)

But when I had to see my cardiologist in Schenectady, it was a struggle for me to ask someone to transport me for a half hour or more, wait, and take me home. It’s not that I thought no one WOULD take me, but that I was resistant to asking. Ultimately, I did request because mass transit would have involved three buses and two hours each way, which would have made getting to the choir on time difficult.

Still, I bristle at the notion that I CAN’T make it without a car. There is a certain infantilization I sometimes experience with some people, and it irritates me greatly.


My wife drives to do the bulk of the grocery shopping at Hannaford on Central Avenue. When we run out of something during the week, I usually walk to the nearby Price Chopper, hauling my trusty cart. Twice when my sister Leslie was in town, she took me to Hannaford because my wife knew the products there, which was fine.

Friends of ours recently took me shopping at the Hannaford on Wolf Road. I negotiated the process fine on my own. By the time I ran into one of my friends, I had gotten everything except the dairy items, which I was heading toward, and a rotisserie chicken, which they found. Pretty good.

Incidentally, my wife gave me an empty box of the feminine hygiene item she required. I was very appreciative because I may never have found it otherwise. I was comforted by the fact that she often feels the same way about the overwhelming array of products.

New experience

But my wife also made a roster of things to pick up at Trader Joe’s. To the best of my recollection, I had never been in that, or any other, store in the chain. I’m going up and down the aisles trying to decipher the very specific items on the list. I went through the entire small store, but there was NOTHING in my cart. So I asked a staffer to help me find four items that I surmised would be together – they were – and then I had four items total.

I started back at the beginning of the store and found one item. My friends asked employees to help them find others, and my list was done. But I was feeling cranky; I didn’t want to ask someone for help finding almost every item. One person said that they would get an item for me; no, I want to know where it is, in the doubtful chance I’m there again.

In conclusion

I don’t mind asking for help if it’s clear to me I can’t do it myself. But usually, I want the chance to try. There will be a time someday, maybe, that I’ll be less able to do for myself. Until then, I would like the chance to do it on my own, if it’s possible.

Sunday Stealing: Extraordinary Penpals

Donny Hathaway

extraordinary penpalsHere’s another Sunday Stealing from the League of Extraordinary Penpals

Have you ever written to a celebrity? Did they respond?

I don’t know that I’ve ever written to any celebrity directly except to some comic book creator types who I have gotten to know. I did write to Paul Simon’s label once to complain that the six-minute version of Boy In The Bubble should have been on the expanded version of Graceland, but there’s no reason to think that Paul himself ever read it.

Do you read letters immediately or wait until you are ready to reply?

What are “letters”? Oh yeah, I remember letters. Usually wait, although if I think I’ll let it slip through the cracks, I’ll try to push it up in my queue.

My preferences when it comes to reading

Sufficient light (a growing requirement), probably on the sofa because it’s the only place, other than my office (and I want not even to see the computer, lest I be tempted to check it out), that provides comfort and sufficient illumination. The television must not be on. Music can be, but it should not have words, which is to say mostly classical or jazz.

Invisible pain

What I’m least likely to change my mind about?

Things that are true over time. An example: my wife had some medical issues involving her left leg. She has not been to church in over a month. I recommended that she take her cane to church today. This is because when someone does not appear hurt/injured, others perceive that he or she is better physically than they might be.

I believe this to be true because my wife and I have a friend who has experienced severe pain over time. They have told us that because they don’t LOOK unwell that others believe they are faking or malingering. Having a crutch or sling or wheelchair or visible bandages – and my wife has bandages under her clothes – is a sign that “something is wrong.”

Whether my wife will take the advice, IDK.

 The topics I would get wrong during trivia

Car models, flower varieties, and actors who became famous in the 21st century.

What I’m hopeful about right now?

That my wife will continue to heal

Philosophies I’ve learned/embraced from others

A Unitarian once told me that “we create our own theology,” and I think that’s true. I may believe something uplifting from the Gospel according to Matthew, but I don’t feel obliged to explain some dreadful verses from Leviticus.

What makes home feel like home?

Music and books.

Talents and skills I like to cultivate

Getting around via mass transit, keeping up with political events

More music

What makes my heart race?

Music, for sure. There is music that will make me cry with joy or cry with melancholy. Take one example: Gone Away by Roberta Flack. It really doesn’t get going until the second verse. It’s described here: The late, great Donny Hathaway “lifted that fleeting horn melody from his own ‘I Believe to My Soul’ and used it to anchor the chorus and closing section.” In the right mood, the song can make me weep.

What power means to me

The ability to turn on my computer, my CD player, my cellphone…

One of my comfort hobbies

Playing with my Hess trucks.

Last time I was pleasantly surprised

When my wife started changing her own bandages this week

How was my October 2022?

Busy and exhausted, as noted here and here and here and especially here,  plus another post I haven’t put out yet.

Those who inspire my growth

Almost anyone who has a rational point of view. Of course, I get to define what I think is rational.

Car lights and cloudy days

A calling

gray carMy wife and I were going to meet a couple of friends on Labor Day for ice cream at a local emporium. But her hybrid vehicle’s car failed to start. Why it didn’t is a bit of a mystery. If she had left the car lights on or failed to turn off the vehicle – much easier to do than with the cars I grew up with – the car would have “told” her.

In any case, our friends came to our house, armed with cups of frozen desserts. We sat and watched the AAA fellow recharge the vehicle. I keep forgetting that they now carry portable chargers rather than having to jump it using another car.

My wife with one of our friends drove off to make sure the car’s charge held. The other friend and I sat on the porch. The situation reminded me of something I used to do in Binghamton, NY growing up in the 1960s.

Binghamton is cloudy and sometimes rainy. So a lot of people would accidentally leave their car lights when they parked. I took it upon myself to open the driver’s side door and turn off the lights. I must have done this over a thousand times in my life. One day coming home from high school, I  turned off at least a dozen lights.

The open-door policy

Obviously, all of these cars were unlocked because that was the norm at the time. The number of cars I could not open because the door was locked was at most one in 20.

I don’t know what possessed me to do this. It was a calling, a mission. I’d cross the street to do it. Maybe my parents left their car lights on. But I have no specific memory of that. I even tried to do this in Jamaica, Queens in 1977, but the guy came back and thought I was trying to steal his car. Only rarely have I tried that since mostly because almost no one keeps their cars unlocked.

BTW, my friend had never done this. Have any of you?

Speaking of car lights, one of the things my wife and I agree upon is visibility. When it’s gray and overcast or raining, cars without their lights are difficult to see. But the ones that are silver/gray are the worst.

Non est scriptor coegi licentia

no car memory

no drivers licenseWhen I posted on Facebook a link to this post about trying to get from Binghamton to Albany, it generated a fair amount of conversation.

One buddy of mine asked: “Not that it’s any of my business, but curiosity is killing me: Why not drive?” I replied, “Because I have no license.” Or according to a translator: “Non est scriptor coegi licentia.”

This is true, as far as it goes. But more accurate, I suppose, is that I’ve NEVER had a driver’s license. Not ever. And while it’s just the way I am, it’d be disingenuous to think it wasn’t peculiar to most Americans. So I suppose it’s time to take a deep dive into that fact.

So I started free-associating and came up with over 1800 words. This means I’ll have to break this up into three chunks.

I don’t “get” cars

My parents both drove. My sisters both drive. It was never that important to me, except for a couple of brief times, which I’ll share with you eventually.

I have no car memory. That is, I didn’t care about cars growing up. I don’t know what model of cars my parents owned except one, I think, was a “woody,” with a faux wood exterior.

And I didn’t keep track of what kind of models each car maker made. I mean Chevrolet had the Chevette and some other “ch” lines. Ford had the Fairlane and the Mustang. But that’s about it. To this day, when I see a car model category on JEOPARDY, I respond exceedingly poorly.

Moreover, I never daydreamed about driving a car. I got around pretty well on foot, going to school and church, even walking three miles each way on Sunday afternoons to go to a second church. I had my bicycle, and occasionally, rode the bus.

In fact, my recurring nightmare was being in the back seat of a car, and the vehicle crashes through the side of the bridge, sinking rapidly into the river. (It was probably the Court Street Bridge into the Chenango River in Binghamton.)

The ex-husband of a friend of mine would ask me, “How do you not drive?” And since I never did, I had no good answer.

Ridin’ thumb

Even before I went to college, I started hitchhiking, from Binghamton to New Paltz, where my girlfriend at the time was attending. I took that stretch of road several times.

Speaking of which, the most serious car accident I was ever in happened when I was getting out of a car after a ride. A woman who had some physical limitation was unable to apply the brakes and plowed into that car while I was halfway out. I swore I’d never be like the driver in a situation like that.

I spent two days in the hospital, a week resting at home, then, when my right shoulder gave out, four weeks of physical therapy.

At some point, I got what was the first of seven driver’s permits, the document one needs to try to learn to drive. I think my first lesson was in the Okie’s Volvo? Saab? In any case, it had a manual transmission, and she screamed at me because I was going to burn out her clutch. And that was the end of that.

Later, she had a red car with push-button automatic transmission. Once I tried to drive it around the parking lot of the Colonial Arms apartments in New Paltz. It was uneventful until I accidentally went in reverse, knocking over a Dumpster! Surprisingly, the car appeared OK.

During this period, my good friend Uthaclena once tried to teach me to drive. I must have been quite terrible since he STILL shudders when he talks about it. I thought I was doing fine.

More soonish.


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