it’s very real.

You don’t have to look far these days to find plenty of examples of Karens and Kens throwing their weight around in public. I’ve even seen them out in the wild, usually after someone confronts them about the lack of a mask in a store where it’s required. There is generally some shouting, maybe some throwing of things and then a dramatic-but-hasty departure. Witnesses shake their heads and wonder how it came to this.

I’ve found myself thinking about how to handle a confrontation over our new normal, especially since a maskless jerk who seemed to think he was funny crowded my mom in the grocery store.

And now I know.

Just a little while ago, I was checking out at the little Giant Eagle store in our neighborhood. The woman running the register is one of my favorite people there, always chatty and friendly while customers unload their carts. I held out my phone so she could scan my loyalty card barcode and then stepped back to the end of the belt to pay with my card.

And there’s a guy standing there. Already unloading his stuff. Standing right in front of the card reader. I said, “Sir, could you please back up? I’ll pay real quick and be out of your way.”

He stepped to the back of the belt, but went no further.

“Sir, could you please back up to the sign on the floor so I can pay?”

He says he doesn’t need to back up any further.

I now notice he’s not wearing his mask; he’s just holding it up over his mouth. And, because my brain works like it does, I also notice that he looks an awful lot like the late pro wrestling manager Bobby Heenan, but with a cut-off t-shirt instead of the satin jacket.

With the exception of the clothes, this is REALLY close.

I am no longer being polite. Or quiet. “Back up. And put on your mask.”

The woman checking me out is now no longer behind the register; she’s standing next to the guy, asking him to move back. At this point she’s the reasonable one, saying if he could just back up for a minute, she’d get him checked out right away.

He says, to her and to me, that he doesn’t have to back up. There is now a lot of shouting. He pretends to swing at me once, after I asked him what was so fucking hard about this whole thing. He is red in the face (I probably was too) and telling me he’s going to break my jaw.

I made one mistake. I tossed his gallon jug of iced tea back in his cart. It came open, and poured out on the floor. He sensed that this was an opening, because he immediately started to shout about me assaulting him. “He ripped off my mask! He shoved me! Did you see it? Someone call the cops!”

A couple employees show up with mops, and they move his cart back — way back — and begin to clean up the iced tea. Another employee said the police were on their way. He stepped up to me one last time. “You’re going to jail, asshole. I guarantee it.”

I laughed. “You know the cops are going to ask other people what happened, right? Lying to a cop is a really bad idea.”

We’re now separated. I paid and moved my cart over to the service desk. The woman who checked me out — she is also the front of house manager — says to me, quietly, “Don’t worry, sweetie — I’ll tell the police exactly what happened.” And I apologized to her, repeatedly, for the scene and for spilling the dude’s iced tea on the floor.

He practically sprinted out of the store, still making cartoonish gestures at me, when the police arrived. I thanked the manager one more time for her support and understanding and stepped outside, away from Mr. Heenan. I told one officer what happened while the other officer spoke to the guy. When the second officer came over to me, I learned that the story had apparently changed back to something close to reality — no mentions of assault or vicious mask removal. The second cop made sure I wasn’t parked near my friend. Then smiled, shook his head and said to have a nice night.

But I haven’t had a nice night. It’s nearly two hours later, and the adrenaline is still pumping. I still feel guilty about causing a problem for the people who work in the store — they shouldn’t have to be the ones to deal with shit like this. I’ve gone over — and over and over — the confrontation in my head, and I don’t think I’d do anything differently — except for the iced tea thing — if this happens again.

Or, maybe, when it happens again.

That’s the thing I don’t get. Why did this happen? Did the guy come in the store thinking he was going to pick a fight with someone? Was he just having a bad day? And even if the latter is the case, what is so hard about being respectful? Or even just tolerant? I mean, I was literally 60 seconds away from walking my cart out to the car. I wouldn’t think twice about taking a step back to let someone finish up their purchase. I go back to the question in the first paragraph: How did we get here?

And more importantly: Can we please go back?

6. not yet.


I look a little bit demented in this picture, but the happiness on my face is genuine.

Unfortunately, it didn’t last.

I took that selfie outside of one of the two shops that worked for more than two weeks to restore my Element to its former glory. It had been pronounced fixed earlier on Friday; I left work a bit early, drove out to the ‘burbs to drop off the Charger and pick up my car.

And, man, I was happy to see it.

But there wasn’t much time to stand around and admire my 10-year-old, 245,000-miles-on-it Element; I was on the way to Columbus to help out with tomorrow’s Minnesota tailgate party. I needed to get some gas and get myself on the Parkway West.

Once on the highway, it still took a while before I noticed anything; as any good yinzer knows, rush-hour traffic in Robinson tends to not rush anywhere. But once I got on I-79, it was easy to tell: the Element wasn’t fixed. The moment I accelerated, the check engine light came on and the engine hesitated sharply. It struggled to get up hills. And by the time I got to the Washington County line, I knew I couldn’t stick it out all the way to Columbus; I had to turn around and head back home.

And. I. Was. Furious.

There were issues all week with something to do with emissions; the check engine light apparently was persistent all week long. But: It eventually passed its annual emissions inspection and the folks at the body shop said they fixed one final problem emissions problem this morning.

I wonder if anyone at either professional automobile service business bothered to take the car out on the highway. I’m guessing they didn’t.

Mrs. Crappy has work stuff to catch up with and I can’t leave her without a car for the weekend. So, instead of being in Columbus, helping my folks with the tailgate party and seeing the season’s penultimate home game, we’re stuck in Pittsburgh. And I am frustrated beyond words.

johnny (part two).

All I really wanted to do on Sunday was cut the grass and haul the summer furniture out of the garage, clean it up and spend the rest of the afternoon lounging on the front porch.

As we discussed yesterday, those plans were changed. I took a day off today to get all those things done; I was hoping to finish the toilet installation today and get some outside work finished in time to grill a pork loin and spend the evening outside.

Instead, the bathroom is in pretty much the same state it was when I started working on it this morning. I still have no idea about my toilet installation skills, because I’m still nowhere near being able to install the toilet, thanks to something in the subfloor that has left me unable to anchor a new flange.

And I am out patience and, because I have to work tomorrow, out of time as well.

I don’t have a problem with paying professionals to do these kinds of things. I just wish I hadn’t wasted two full days before figuring out that I’d need to do that now.

13. disappointing.

People who aren’t who you thought.

Those who don’t do the simple things they should.

Not living up to my own expectations.

Feeling isolated.

These aren’t new lessons. But they seem to have come up all at once this week.


Although we have three televisions in the newsroom, I wasn’t watching any of them at 10 a.m. on June 28.

We knew the Supreme Court was set to announce its ruling on President Obama’s health care law around 10, and I was reading through the rapid posts at the SCOTUSBlog and refreshing the Associated Press feeds so I could be ready to post the first write-through AP moved.

It took AP just a couple minutes to move its first few paragraphs after Chief Justice Roberts announced the 5-4 ruling; I grabbed the story and a couple pictures, posted them on the paper’s site, and then took a look at Twitter to see what the reaction was.

I found some discussion about the opinion, sure, but most of the talk was about how CNN had butchered the announcement. The network had jumped on Roberts’ first few words — which said the individual mandate didn’t meet the tests necessary to be constitutional under the commerce clause — and reported that the individual mandate had been ruled unconstitutional.

A few paragraphs later, though, Roberts’ opinion states that the mandate is, in fact constitutional, but CNN was in enough of a hurry that its on-air folks apparently couldn’t wait to get it right.

Hooboy. I checked CNN’s site and found the above (the green highlights are mine). CNN continued to bury themselves for minutes, even going as far as letting Wolf Blitzer start consulting with the network’s mind-numbing array of talking heads about the impact of the devastating political loss for Obama.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, I found out later that CNN’s chief rival, Fox News, hadn’t fared any better. I didn’t see the broadcast, but the screen cap above pretty clearly illustrates that the Fair and Balanced team screwed it up as well.

By themselves, the errors were bad enough. But one of those networks made their mistake infinitely worse later in the day. CNN — which apparently hung with the erroneous report longer than Fox did — issued a correction and an unattributed apology:

CNN regrets that it didn’t wait to report out the full and complete opinion regarding the mandate. We made a correction within a few minutes and apologize for the error.

Fox, as it does, took a different tack in addressing its error. Michael Clemente, the network’s executive vice president of news, issued this statement:

We gave our viewers the news as it happened. When Justice Roberts said, and we read, that the mandate was not valid under the commerce clause, we reported it. Then when we heard and read that the mandate could be upheld under the government’s power to tax, we reported that as well.

That noise you just heard was my head exploding. But we’ll get to that in a second.

First, let’s talk about the mistakes themselves. I’ve never worked at an organization anywhere near the size of CNN or Fox News, but the basic principles of journalism are the same whether we’re talking about a television news network or a medium-sized newspaper: Be right. And if you can, be first.

Note the order there. If you’re in such a hurry that you screw up the facts, it doesn’t matter how quickly you got it on the air or on the site. You’re wrong. Period.

Working with the paper’s website has made me more aware of the importance of timing, but it’s also made more aware of the caution necessary when we’re rushing. If I can confirm that there’s been an accident and that the coroner has been called to the scene, it’s safe for me to report THOSE TWO THINGS ONLY. It’s a pretty good assumption that someone is dead, but it’s still an assumption; I’m not writing that someone is dead until somebody — a cop, the coroner, one of our photographers — tells me there’s a body or until I see it myself.

After hearing Roberts say the mandate wasn’t valid under the commerce clause, CNN and Fox both made assumptions as well and those assumptions bit them both. If the reporters in Washington had continued listening rather than making those assumptions, I wouldn’t be writing this post.

The next thing has to do with a pretty basic tenet of journalism ethics. When you make a factual error, you correct it, and when you make a correction, you do it in a way that is transparent. CNN, to its credit, not only corrected its error but recognized that it was significant enough that it also issued an apology. It’s still irritating to me that the network made such an egregious — and avoidable — error in the first place, but once it happened, fixing it and moving on is really the only public course to take (I assume there are things going on behind the scenes to ensure something that stupid will never happen again). CNN swallowed hard and did what it had to do. Good.

Mr. Clemente, on the other hand, comes off looking like a kid whose hand was caught in the cookie jar and then denied it was ever there. Let’s repeat that basic tenet of journalism ethics: When you make a factual error, you correct it.

Fox didn’t do that. In his statement Clemente said his network reported the facts as they happened. Take one more look at the headline in the above screencap. At no point did anyone connected with the court say the legislation had been ruled unconstitutional, and that makes the headline wrong. Period. If the headline had read that the individual mandate was invalid under the commerce clause, it would have been accurate, maybe — MAYBE — Clemente’s stunningly arrogant statement would have been appropriate.

It didn’t. And when the executive vice president of Fox News had an opportunity to simply, quietly correct the error his network made and move on, he failed. Badly.

You guys are more than capable of drawing your own conclusions about the ideologies and motivations that drive our cable news networks; that’s not the point of this post. But on a day when the two biggest cable networks each made what had to be one of the biggest errors in their histories, only one of them handled the mistake as a serious news organization would.

The other? If I needed a reason to write it off, what it did on June 28 would be it.


What I want to do next Sunday: Run the Pittsburgh Half Marathon.

What I will do instead: Not run the Pittsburgh Half Marathon.

What I’m doing is otherwise known as the Smart Option, but it’s definitely not the one I wanted to choose. After I completed my first 5K in December — and screwed around for about a month instead of running regularly — I knew I needed a reason to train. And by January, I knew that reason would be the half.

I was making great progress, and having a blast on a months’ worth of Saturday long runs with friends in North Park. But somewhere along the way, I pulled a muscle in my groin — and I didn’t really do anything about it. I went ahead and ran 8.5 miles a few Saturdays ago, and even though I complained about my nipples more, the groin hurt like a bitch afterwards; I also went ahead with a 10K in Florida, and my groin was not pleased with that either.

I’ve tried a few times since, hoping that some rest as I ticked off the days until the half would help.

It didn’t. The pain flared a few steps in each time, enough that it was a struggle to finish a mile. I even stopped recording the attempts on Daily Mile, because I didn’t want to turn my timeline into an endless stream of grumping, especially when most of my friends there will be running on Sunday.

I’ve thought about trying anyway, walking and jogging and somehow struggling through 13.1 miles. I could probably make it, but I’m not sure where that would leave me for the rest of the summer. There are other races, and other half marathons out there, and I don’t want to chance missing out on those because I’m nursing a six-month-old groin pull.

So I’m going with the Smart Option, a name I chose in hopes of making myself feel better about not running on Sunday. I’m going to sit out for a while, maybe with an eye on walking with the March of Dimes thing in late May before I start jogging again. If that goes well, I will ease back in. I think using a Couch to 10K app would be a good way to make sure I’m ready for the Great Race in September and whatever else comes along.

I am not happy about this. I’ve come to really enjoy running, and for me, its benefits are too numerous to list. I’m not going to stop, and I will run a half before 2012 is over. But this is discouraging. Depressing. Frustrating. I so wanted to do this, and do it now, this May, and here, in my the city that is solidly my home.

But I will do it, maybe on the Montour Trail, maybe in Columbus. That’s still the goal, and I will reach it this year.

If you’re running on Sunday, I hope you have a great morning on the streets of our city. I might wander over to the start, to get a feel for everything and to see as many of you as I can before you begin.

I’ll see you other places in a few weeks too. North Park. North Shore Trail. In Brighton Heights or Bellevue. I promise.