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Down and Out in Pennsylvania

The Breaking of Scranton

by CHARLES ORLOSKI

Rats (spokesman) :  “I think we are in Scranton alleys.”

After completing work as emergency spill response manager, on July 3, 2012, I handed my family’s rent-check to our Taylor Borough landlord, and rather pleased with myself, hopped-up steps, & greeted  wife Carol, with a smile.  I won the day’s Rat-Race.

5:00 PM, rent paid, hot dogs & cheeseburgers cooking on George Foreman Grille, beautiful hot evening, cloudless, day-off tomorrow for the 4th, and I felt that only an emergency spill-call could ruin such a perfect night.  My prevailing joy was supplemented by the arrival of Scranton native, V.P. Joe Biden, who was in Scranton for the day, & planned to deliver a typical homeboy “Rah-rah, hey…, look how our Administration’s creating good jobs” speech.    After gala festivities, & large anticipated crowd, The Scranton Times Tribune reported that generous businessmen coughed-up money for a significant firework display.

Acting upon all Qualitative-Easy-Goodness at hand, I asked wife Carol to strategically remove the black-poly trash bags hung upon our panoramic-kitchen window, approximately 4′ x 8′, & designed to deflect sunlight & prevent 90 degree heat from consuming life, and allow my family to watch the City of Scranton’s spectacular firework display without frying.   Carol complied, and down came the trash-bags, revealing east, St. Ann’s Monastery, Sanofi Pasteur white-metal warehouse, and the timeless Scranton Times-Tribune tower, adorned with red-lights.    Not scenic Athens, & no Parthenon visuals for sure, but who really wanted to be a kill-joy in Scranton on Independence Day Eve?

As a rule, an “aged eagle unwilling to spread wings,” & for official record, my surname Orloski means eagle in Polish, on all July 4th evenings, I close windows, turn telescreen volume-up notches, prefer to skip such waste of money –  had my fill of fireworks & seagulls since bygone 1970 days on Seaside Heights, NJ, boardwalk.   However, as if within the plot of a good film, I felt compelled to watch this particular weird event.

Yes –  Scranton is Joe Biden’s hometown.   He’s an institution here, like Coney Island hot-dogs, actor/writer/director, Jason Miller, Hyde Park-rooted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Buona Pizza, and of course actor/director, Mr. Paul Sorvino.   Doubtless,  it was a very positive sign for the VOPTUS to pop into town on Independence Day Eve, despite the fact that over the weekend, Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty announced Scranton was completely broke, and unlike the Fed, could not print debt-based money, and decided to pay employees minimum wage.

(Note:  Today’s Times Tribune, 7/12, displays a remarkable letter to editor written by Mr. John Marciano, Santa  Monica, Ca.    He wonders, “what is Scranton’s share of the eventual cost of the Iraq War?  Mr. Marciano concluded by asking, “When will citizens rise-up to  protest the true causes of our financial crisis.”)

Regrettably, so far, Mr. Marciano, workers have not stormed City Hall, and today’s The Times Tribune headlines, “Notorious Crisis,” in red-ink, words displayed, “Eyes on the Electric City,” accompanied by a dashing photograph depicting Mayor Chris Doherty and state Senator John Blake, D-22, Archbald, answering Chris Matthews’ crisis related questions on MSNBC Hardball.   Notably, like firework displays, Hardball is another entertainment option for which I take a rain-check.  No news, good news?

After the July 3rd firework display, a gray cloud suspended above the Scranton Sewer Authority physical plant located on the Lackawanna River’s east bank.   Lonely people who could be cast in a Simon & Garfunkel song returned home, took-out trash, wondered if weekly garbage pick-up would be done, some leaned out windows hoping Scranton Police remained on-the beat, fearful of a “ragged claw” breaking & entry.    Past weekend, a 15-year old girl, Lisa Abaunza, native of Guatemala, Duryea Borough resident, a Scranton Preparatory School freshman, was shot-dead.   As expected, no area politicians spoke on Hardball about a drug-deal gone bad, trio of young people dead.   Naturally – MSNBC preferred turning national “lonely eyes” on City of Scranton employees who filed legal action against Mayor Chris Doherty for slashed wages, those fortunate who “might be able to get jobless aid.”   And local folk, sensitive, bewildered  & scared, attended 15-year old Lisa’s funeral.   No one thought of storming the gates of Big-bank drug-money beneficiaries, the dirty “War Against Drugs,” fast & furious business/politico/military consortiums, bleeding life out of American cities, veins.

Anyway – Scranton is broke.   City Solicitor, Mr. Paul Kelly, validated the claim, and as of this writing, no Scranton employees storm City Hall.   Really, this is not strange – cannot every working-class person understand that when all money is gone, there is nothing left?  Old saying applicable, “one cannot get blood form a stone”?

For me, essays are difficult to write & I regret trying to be an “intellectual,” a fact which might fly without my affirmation.   However, in Down & Out in Paris & London, George Orwell spoke tellingly about  adventures consisting of making pennies, buying bread & cheap wine in two (2) of Europe’s greatest capitals, places that would make  Scranton 2012 look like Monaco 1950.    Fellow tramp, Russian expatriate, Boris, lifted Orwell’s spirit, affirmed “making money is the easiest thing in life.”  For the most part, Boris was correct, and with the help of cleverness &  touches of dishonesty, he and Orwell managed as “plongeurs” and waiters in Paris fine-Hotel X.

The literary pair made it through life on-the-bottom, and Down & Out in Paris & London notably became one of Hunter S. Thompson’s most cherished books.    However, & to irreverently paraphrase Scranton’s beloved Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, “it takes a village & time span to fail,” and that, my fellow Americans, buys one a halfpenny ticket on Scranton Steamtown National Park passenger train into the heart of corruption, Greater-Village scale.

Born in Scranton’s State Hospital, 1952, son of a Fowler & Williams Teamster truck-driver, I regrettably must say the traditional Scrantonian Will to Believe “pie-in-the-sky” bullshit from  local businessmen, politicians and media is immeasurably boundless.   For example, after the turn of the 21st Century, famed actor & film director, Mr. Paul Sorvino, rolled into  Scranton, mirroring the 2-scoundrels showcased in Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, the latter pair pretending to be relatives of a dead & wealthy widower with whom they claimed blood-relationship.   Of course Sorvino got  royal treatment from every notable Scranton Tomorrow thinking & true-blue C. of C. progressive person.   Paul Sorvino, Goodfellas film star & Monroe County horse rancher,  simply needed to dip into public funds in order to make a film, eventually, starring his daughter, & called The Trouble with Cali.    He sold area notables on the idea that N.E. Pa, with Scranton as hub, would inevitably become Hollywood East, & a film studio would be constructed in an old shut-down former Defense Plant, Lackawanna County.    With no resistance, no humanitarian regime-change requirements, Mr. Sorvino succeeded taking County money.   With everybody that “mattered” in Scranton aboard, “Paulie” persuaded Lackawanna County Majority Commissioner, Mr. Bob Cordaro, to give him $500,000.00 of county taxpayer money, and press forward with creating The Trouble With Cali which just months ago appeared at a southwest film festival, and by & large received hideous & embarrassing reviews from critics.

Currently, ex-Lackawanna County Commissioner Bob Cordaro is doing 11-years jail-time for various forms of public service “corruption,” taking kickbacks from respected Scranton businessmen who later turned federal witnesses & provided plea-deal evidence against Bob “the Bartender.”

On the 4th of July, I wondered what Bob Cordaro might be thinking behind bars, as fireworks exploded around the prison constantina wire.    Doubtless, it took a village of scoundrels to get Scranton to its current awful financial position, land Mr. Cordaro behind bars.   My question is, one might say,  the overwhelming question –  how many more “self-made” entrepreneurs & “leaders” are in dead-serious selfish operation in America’s cities & towns, Congressional & Gubernatorial offices, Oval Offices and in-line for  undesirable appearances with Chris Matthews on Hardball?   Wall Street, Big-Banks, Senators, Congressman, & POTUS candidates tend to think its none of our business.    The way America votes & takes backseats to misdeeds proves them right.   Before closing, I want to thank Santa Monica’s John Marciano for his fine letter to the Times-Tribune editor.    Is Scranton’s rat’s alley only a few GPS coordinates, silver-sparkler flashes away — a matter of time getting there for us all?

Charles Orloski lives in Taylor, Pa.   He can be reached at CCDJOrlov@aol.com