December 17, 2009
Dad was developing quite a reputation with the police. First they came to the house to mediate domestic spats. Then Dad was arrested and jailed for trespassing. And now he was making a stink over in the next county because one of the precincts didn’t have the flag at half mast for September 11.
When he drove past that afternoon and saw the flag at flying at full staff, he assumed it was simply an oversight. Dad turned around, parked his car and went inside. He asked the officer on desk duty to please have someone lower the flag. The officer’s response was to call his immediate superior, to whom Dad repeated his request. The sergeant’s response was: “I haven’t seen a directive to do so.” So Dad advised the sergeant that he would return in a couple of hours to thank him for lowering the flag.
Dad returned as promised and found the flag still flying at the top of the pole. His thoughts turned to someone who might have lost a friend or relative in the terror attacks, and they might get the impression that the police didn’t give a crap about who died. He spoke to the sergeant again and requested to see the commanding officer. Ironically he wasn’t available because he was at a 9/11 memorial service with the Commissioner of Police. At this point, Dad told the sergeant that he was going to call the local newspaper and ask for a reporter and a photographer to come to the precinct.
He retreated to his vehicle and did just that. Dad also called the police headquarters for clarification on their flag directive. Next he called the highway patrol bureau and was told by an officer that their flag was at half-mast. Likewise, the police academy spokesman said the same about their flag. Then he asked both places to call the 5th precinct and tell them to lower their flag. Finally, he called our local precinct back home to inquire about the position of their flag. Half-mast, they said.
That’s when Dad got out of his car, walked over to the pole and lowered the flag to half staff. Then he went inside and spoke to the sergeant for the third time and told him what he did. This time they asked for his ID, and brought it back a few minutes later and told him he was free to go. But they weren’t done with him yet. When Dad tried to renew his gun permit they held up the approval until he provided more information about the flag incident at the 5th precinct, so Dad wrote them a five-page report.
Then Dad wanted to know what was going on in the schools, so he dug out his 40-year-old teaching certificate and applied to be a substitute. Not only did my school district hire him (with expired credentials), but he actually filled in for my old eighth grade English teacher. She had them reading Into the Forests of the Night by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, and Dad sneered at it because it wasn’t classic literature. He only subbed a few times and decided he didn’t want to do it anymore. Of course, he couldn’t go back even if he wanted to because he got himself banned from school property.
Dad went on a crusade because the fire hydrants in the neighborhood were under piles of snow, and he said if the school caught fire then his property taxes would go up. (Funny, because I didn’t think he paid taxes, but that’s beside the point.) But he drove around the middle school and high school to see if there were any nearby hydrants that were shoveled out. He couldn’t find any, so went into both schools and demanded meetings with the principals. The high school principal had him removed from the building when he wouldn’t stop making a fuss, so Dad went to see the superintendent and then sat in on the next PTA meeting.
But he wasn’t done there. He went and spoke to the fire chief, who told him there were four neighborhood hydrants that served the schools. The junior firefighters were tasked with clearing them out, and Dad obtained map of their locations so he could check and make sure. Then he went to the next civic association meeting to raise the issue there, and finally he contacted the local news about it. They didn’t do a story about fire hydrants, but a couple people told me they did see Dad on the news going on a wild-eyed rant about Muslims and the TSA sticking things up people’s asses at the airport. And since it was nearing Christmas, he went back into the schools and one of the local banks to complain because they had Christmas trees but no Nativity scenes on display.
“Geez, Dad, if you need a hobby that badly, why don’t you go into the basement and put your train set back together?” I suggested, after he finished telling me how he yelled at the girl working in the pharmacy because they sold birth control pills. Dad had a love affair with the unborn. He kept two hundred white crosses in the shed, which he would erect at protest sites along with a sign proclaiming “THIS IS THE CEMETERY OF THE UNBORN.” And in spaces normally reserved for family pictures, Dad hung framed photographs of fetuses on the walls of the house.
The latest was that Dad was turning the house into a mission house. He found this guy Richard who was going around the country trying to set up a lay Catholic order to combat abortion “because the bishops aren’t really doing anything.” The idea was to get Operation Rescues going again, and set up safe houses for people to stay at in between jail stints. Meanwhile he was divorced and had a family somewhere, and Mom suspected that what he was really doing was evading paying child support.
The night before he arrived, Dad went out and spent two hundred dollars on groceries. And he didn’t even tell Kathleen that Richard was moving in. She phoned Dad while hiding in the bathtub, freaking out “because some guy is in here walking around in his underwear!” And Richard had the run of the entire house like Tina did. Kathleen was pissed because she couldn’t even get the password to use the computer but Richard was on it all day.
I met Richard shortly afterwards. I went to visit Dad and found the two of them praying in Latin in the kitchen. There were candles all around and the Kreuger Christ statue was overseeing from the corner. I awkwardly took a seat and waited until they were finished, and Richard informed me that Dad had told him all about the family strife. “So we’ve been sitting here praying that everyone will come around and the family will come back together.”
Yeah, and what about your family? I felt like asking. But I just said, “Yeah, that’s not going to happen.” This dude didn’t know the half of it – only what Dad told him.
“Now, now, all things are possible with God,” Dad chided, wagging a reproving finger.
“Not this,” I said. “So what happened to the tree out front?”
“Oh, I trimmed it back,” Richard said. “I used to work for a tree company, and it was diseased so I trimmed off the bad parts so it will grow out healthy again.” I just shook my head. He didn’t trim the tree, he mutilated it. He cut off every branch except for one going straight up in the air. For someone who supposedly did this for a living, he certainly did a hack job. That had been my mother’s favorite tree too.
In the end Richard didn’t stay at the house very long. Dad took him to some retreat upstate and he never came back. Last Dad heard, he was in Tennessee on his way to Texas. On the run was probably more like it. So that was the end of him, but I was sure there would be others. This was only the beginning.