Tag Archive for death

Murder in the Local Paper

Secor is a small farm town not far from me. With a population under 350, it’s exactly the kind of place where people always say, “nothing ever happens here.”

Until a man was murdered and his body dismembered there just over a week ago.

I first read about it on Peoria’s Journal Star website Thursday morning, and early Thursday afternoon I read about the two people arrested in connection to the crime. A live-in caregiver and her boyfriend allegedly shot a 74-year-old man and tried to dispose of the body. Details are still being withheld, but it appears the killers dismembered the body, leaving a portion at the home and a dumping the rest off a bridge into a river just over the county border. Authorities were waiting on DNA test results to confirm the body parts go together and verify the identity.

Later that afternoon, I got home from work and pulled our local weekly paper out of the mailbox. The murder made the front page, which is not a surprise. However, it was already way out of date. It said a man was missing and a body had been found in the river, but there were no suspects yet.

It’s a perfect example of the challenges faced by print media and the increasing irrelevance of small, local newspapers when it comes to reporting major news. My wife and I subscribe to the local paper because it’s the best way to get coverage of our town, such as village and school board meetings and notices from local groups. However, because of the way the paper tries to protect itself, it’s the only way to get that news and information in a timely manner.

See, this newspaper does have a website. It also has breaking news on the case, but it’s all culled from the paper’s parent, Bloomington’s Pantagraph newspaper. Unfortunately everything else is unavailable for about a week after the local paper is printed and distributed. Some other big stories have been exempted from the rule, but for the most part, delaying the news has been their alternative to putting up a paywall.

It’s sad, really. I understand there’s a business side to running a paper and reporting local news. Reporters need to be paid, and whether we’re talking print or Web, there are costs involved in distribution. We can talk about how information should be free and people deserve the news, but unless we’re willing to cough up more taxes to pay for it, we’re out of luck. (Not to mention we’d then be dealing with government oversight of the media, which is the last thing we’d want. But that’s a whole ‘nother blog post.)

I got to thinking, though: what really pays for the newspaper? Ads. This is why just about any given interior page is at least 3/4 advertisements, and at least one or two other pages (in our small paper), often the back page, is a full-page ad. How do you get ad revenue? Guarantee eyeballs. How do you guarantee eyeballs? Subscribers. Sales in stores and out of corner machines probably vary somewhat, but a paper can cough up an exact subscriber number at any given time.

This is the problem news websites face. The web advertisement arms race, where ads get more obnoxious and browser-based ad-blocking software gets more aggressive, is frustrating on both sides. Paywalls, meanwhile, are a huge turnoff because sometimes a reader just wants one story or isn’t local to that paper.

Also, the Journal Star’s paywall is laughably easy to defeat: after a reader has read 15 articles for the month, a pop-up ad asks for a digital subscription. If the reader refuses, he is dumped to the front page. However, I’ve discovered if I hit the browser’s stop button after the page loads but before the pop-up arrives, I can keep reading. If they fix that, I’d bet dumping or blocking cookies or using a proxy would still get me past the paywall.

It’s going to get worse before it gets better, and it’s these small, local papers that are going to suffer. Our local reporter is nearing retirement, and I can’t imagine it’s going to be easy to replace her. The pay can’t be great, and the beat is far from glamorous. They’re going to need someone who cares about the area, otherwise we’ll get someone out of Bloomington or Peoria covering the area part time and our news will be secondary to whatever city story he or she is working on at the time.

Papers really need to start thinking outside the box, leveraging both emerging technologies and the desire to reach local audiences (and for local businesses to reach their local populace), or they’re going to die. This isn’t news to them, of course, but the locals don’t have time to wait for the bigger outlets to figure it out.

So yes, here I am with a half-assed suggestion: mobile apps and subscriptions. A tablet app local news outlets can push news, ads, obits, classifieds, etc., to. Readers buy the app, subscribe to the content.

On a personal level, the local paper’s website is useless, and it’s not worth paying for the Pantagraph or Journal Star (even if I couldn’t defeat the paywall). Pay what, $2.99 or so for the app (for the developer), then around $1.99 per month for the content (for the paper)? Sure, that’d be worth it to me. I don’t know what our subscription cost is, but I’m sure it’s less than buying the paper for $1.00 per week in stores. I’d just as soon read on the tablet if I can get the same content, including things like the high school’s monthly newspaper.

Speaking as a tech, I’m seeing a lot of folks picking up tablets. Not just the students who are bringing more and more tablets to the school I work for, but their parents and grandparents, too. Every year, more staff members, both current and retiring, are buying iPads when we do our annual bulk purchases. Staff members who are not computer savvy are purchasing iPhones at the behest of their children. I also see parents and grandparents bringing tablets and e-readers to the karate dojo.

Tablets are perfect for people who have no use otherwise for a computer. The elderly are buying them or receiving them as gifts in greater numbers because they can do email, Facebook, and basic web surfing without the hassle—real or perceived—of a laptop or desktop. With the Nexus 7 priced at only $230, it’s very affordable.

Design the pages right, and we could get local, relevant ads in an unobtrusive manner, making local businesses happy and generating more income for the paper. Small ads around the content, larger ads on a full page to swipe past, just like a real paper.

Hell, if I knew anything about app design and programming, I might try to develop a relationship with the local paper and take a crack at it myself. I’m not a business man, but it seems to me a developer catering to hundreds of local papers might do at least as well as a major paper developing its own in-house app.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

We Should Encourage Health in One Another

I’m going to have a direct conversation about fat acceptance.

Across several social networks, I often see some skinny or muscular person make a crack about fat people needing to get in shape. Then someone—generally someone larger or who has difficulty cutting weight—takes them to task for their attitude. This is then followed by a swarm of posts offering support and encouragement to the larger person, telling them, “we love you for who you are.”

I can’t blame them. I hate seeing those arguments, too. The problem is the defense does not encourage a change in health.

Let me be clear: this does not mean said large person deserves scorn or derision. Fat people do not deserve to be belittled any more than anyone deserves to be teased for their race, sexuality, culture, or religion.

One of the saddest photo projects I’ve ever seen is Haley Morris-Cafiero’s Wait Watchers set. After a chance photo catching someone making fun of her weight behind her back, she set up situations to catch this happening over and over. Some of it is tough to look at because most of us have been guilty of this at one point or another.

Hell, I’m guilty. I’m down fifty pounds from my heaviest and I’m still a big guy. I shudder to think how large I could have gotten without a course correction. My friends tease me about my size or my eating, yet I’ll still make a fat crack now and again. Is it a defense mechanism? Is it just plain funny? Or am I just an asshole? (Probably the latter.)

This brings people down. We all know this. It makes fat people feel worthless, and if they’re already working on a fitness program, it makes them feel like they’ve failed. This is where the angels swoop in to tell them, “It’s okay, we love you for who you are.”

This is true. We do love you for who you are. We accept you. But we don’t have to accept your health situation. Overcompensating for the assholes pushes the problem of inaction to the opposite extreme. Instead of feeling like they’ve failed, the fat person feels like they don’t need to change their situation after all.

I think back to the number of people we’ve lost in the writing community. I think about dead friends and family members. About dead co-workers, both current and former. It’s not just fat people we’re talking about now, it’s a general lack of health. Heart disease. Diabetes. Cancer. Sometimes it’s drugs, alcohol, or depression, but for the most part, we’re talking preventable problems.

And I think about how those losses tear us up.

Would you ever tell someone, “I love you, and I can’t wait to see you in an early grave?” Hell no you wouldn’t. But that’s the behavior we encourage. I can’t count how many people I’ve seen show up on Fitocracy, bitch about how tough working out is, get an outpouring of empty support, and then disappear altogether.

There will always be assholes, and there will always be bleeding hearts. We need to do our best to find the balance between them. Here’s how:

1) Understand that the people who say shit like “fat people are fat because they’re lazy” aren’t being real or telling it like it is, they’re being tactless assholes.

2) Understand that general fitness is more important than size or weight. Seek good health, not a number on a scale. The latter tends to follow the former, but not always.

3) Understand fat jokes are funny. Yes, they hurt sometimes, but don’t read into them too far. Change the channel, browse to a different web page, ignore the trolls, and move on. If your friends are being intentionally hurtful, it’s time to find new friends.

4) Understand your friends and family absolutely do love you and accept you. Instead of seeking validation, ask them for help. A workout partner is by far better for you than an emotional crutch.

5) Understand that change is going to be difficult. There will be pain, sweat, and hunger. The payoff is worth it. Trust me.

6) Understand that you’re neither Jared Fogle nor a Biggest Loser contestant with monetary support and a trainer. You may not have a miracle transformation. Your change will take more time and effort than a thirty-second commercial or a one-hour special would have you believe. What works for them may not work for you.

7) Understand that your friends’ compliments and looks of surprise after your changes will be much more encouraging and affirming than false “it’s okay that you’re fat” sentiments.

In the end, we should all be encouraging good health in one another. We don’t need to beat one another over the head with it, but it should be made clear that we’re here for one another.

If you disagree with me, that’s fine. Please refer to #1 above. Otherwise let me know how I can help.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

McDonald’s Will Kill Us All

When the Superflu comes, McDonald’s will be the vector.

I let the kids talk me into McDonald’s for lunch because it’s one of the few places we can get something to eat and then I can get some work done while they stay occupied on the indoor playground. I always end up regretting it, but today my regret went to a whole new level. Check out the photo below of their service counter, shot in the middle of the lunch rush.

McDonald's will be the death of us

Not pictured: the Grim Reaper and the circling buzzards

Looks like any typical day at a McDonald’s, which most of you have seen before, right? Right. Now let’s take a closer look at these people, from left to right.

The boy in the black baseball cap is probably nine or ten years old. He walked up to the counter, and he rested both elbows on somebody else’s tray.

The old lady in the obnoxious shirt has set her purse on someone else’s tray. The manager in the black shirt is not bothered by this in the slightest as she sets food on the trays around it.

On the other side of the counter, you can just make out a shorter employee in a yellow cap. Just a moment ago she exchanged cash with a customer, directly over someone else’s uncovered french fries and a chicken sandwich. Her arm passed within an inch of the fries, and do I need to remind anyone how filthy cash is? I may have just become a germophobe. Also, minutes after this photo was taken, I told her I still needed my daughter’s chocolate milk. See the cooler on the right in the background? She couldn’t reach into the back, so she knelt on a stack of trays and used it as a step stool. The same trays which are about to go onto the counter for customers’ food.

On to the lady in the blue t-shirt. She had the sense to push a tray back a bit to set down her purse, as the tray had food on it already. However, she then leaned over the tray to speak to the cashier. Had it been my food, I would have asked them to take it away and make me some food that other people hadn’t breathed on. Or potentially spat on if she ordered something with a lot of P sounds.

So what’s the lesson here? Order everything to go so it’s in a bag while it’s sitting on the counter? No, the lesson is to stay the fuck out of McDonald’s until they fix their horrible line management and customer order practices.

This ordering system is a mess in general. People are forced to negotiate their own spot in line and nobody seems to know when it’s their turn to order. Then there’s nowhere for them to stand after they’ve placed their order, so there’s constantly someone in the way. This is compounded by groups of people—usually parents with small children—who don’t have the sense to have some of their group sit and wait at a table rather than near the counter. Having to watch total strangers breathe on, lean on, and handle cash over food is injury on top of insult.

The drink station is just as bad. People jam their way around it, cut in line, stand there for ten minutes while their kids decide what they want, allow their kids to attempt to fill their own cups and make a mess, stand in the way while they wrestle with lids and straws, and generally do their best to create a traffic jam. Once again, this is compounded by groups, especially parents who keep their swarms of children around them while they fill drinks. They ran out of lids, they later ran out of tea, and because the ketchup is at the same station, you have to wait for all the drink jerks to get out of the way so you can get your ketchup.

I have to assume McDonald’s went to this new setup to speed things up. It’s got to be faster than the single line through a corral, right? Apparently not. It’s like the toll plazas all around Chicago: they added a whole bunch of booths, and now the traffic jam occurs after the booth, when people have to fight their way back into fewer lanes, rather than before the booth, when they’re stacked up to pay.

News flash, McDonald’s: the food doesn’t cook any faster. Now you just have to try to fill ten orders at a time instead of two or three.

“Welcome to McDonald’s! If our food doesn’t kill you, our horrible line management practices will.”

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Turn Me Into Pencils

When I die, I want my cremains turned into pencils.

I don’t want the urn, though. I’d like the Wife to divvy up the pencils, maybe keep a few for herself, but distribute the rest to my kids and my friends.

I want my kids to use them in the future, to create with them. I want guys like Brian, John, Cullen, and Ommus to jot in their notebooks with them. I want Russ to pencil his artwork and draw character sketches with them.

What better way to live forever than to be a part of their work?

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Goodbye, Sunny

Sunny
Originally uploaded by MikeOliveri.

His papers carry the name “Sunshine Patch” as chosen by my sister-in-law when she bought him as a puppy, but we all called him Sunny. He lived with her for a time, then with my in-laws, and finally he moved in with my family.

It would be tough to find a better dog. He was very friendly, yet would bark his fool head off when strangers approached the house (which is exactly what I wanted). He never bit anyone, and he was amazing with the kids, even when they were just starting to crawl and would pull on his fur, ears, or tail. He played catch from time to time, and he was always content to just lay near our feet and chill. In the summertime, he liked to stay outside and lay down in a shady spot in the grass.

This week, Sunny got sick. We didn’t think much of it at first, but then he stopped eating, and finally stopped drinking. My wife took him to the vet this morning, this afternoon we learned he was suffering from pneumonia.

My oldest son and I went to visit him shortly before 4pm, when the vet closed. The nurse took us back to the cage where they were giving him his IV of fluids and antibiotics. He perked up when he heard us, then stood up. The nurse opened the cage, and he walked out to greet us. I patted his head and held his chin.

A moment later he settled down to the floor, then rolled against the cage. I petted him, I gently tucked his tongue back into his mouth, and then I said goodbye as he breathed his last.

Goodbye, my friend. We miss you already.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Killing Jack Haringa

The following is a piece of flash fiction depicting the death of Jack Haringa. Why? I’ll let Brian explain.

Enjoy.

JACK CATCHES THE A TRAIN

Jack said his goodbyes and walked out of the bar as the clock struck 10. The heady mix of fine liquor and a good night of prose and poetry readings put a smile on his lips and a stumble in his step, but he looked dapper as always in his pressed jacket and favorite tie. He hated to leave so early, especially with so many of his friends taking the mic, but he promised his wife he’d make it home at a reasonable hour this time.

They had different definitions of “reasonable hour,” but if he caught the A train he’d be home by 10:30, a good middle ground that would likely let him avoid the worst of her ire. The subway station was right around the corner, and a glance at the clock after he descended to the platform assured him he had time to spare.

The sparse crowd surprised him. He wondered if perhaps the smart ones were all still at the bars and nightclubs, leaving him with the workaholics headed home late and the lightweights bailing early. In fact, after the recent arrivals climbed to the street, Jack was left with only two other travelers.

The first leaned against a column only six feet or so to Jack’s left. He looked tired and weary as he read the newspaper. His tie was missing from his open collar and his blazer hung over his right forearm.

The second man wore a long, threadbare overcoat with the collar turned up high. He stood halfway down the platform from Jack, but even from that distance Jack could see the shiny beads of sweat trickling down the man’s temple and brow. His head twitched twice in the few seconds Jack observed him, and he held his head low as he mumbled to himself.

The twitchy man caught Jack’s eye. “What, you want to propose or something?” he shouted.

Jack flinched as the man’s voice echoed around the platform. The weary man sighed heavily.

“Sorry,” Jack said. “I wasn’t staring, just looking around.”

“You don’t fool me! I know exactly what you are!” Twitchy stomped down to the other side of the platform and sat down on one of the rubber-coated benches near the wall. He drew his knees up to his chest, closed his coat around them, and dropped his head down so his collar concealed his face.

“What the hell was that all about?” Jack asked Weary.

Weary glanced sideways at Jack, then turned the page of his newspaper and snapped it back open hard.

Must have had a rough day, Jack thought. His eyes drifted to the front page headline: “Homicide not ruled out in subway accidents.” The picture showed the side of a subway car streaked with red. Jack recognized it from the news two nights ago, when a man fell in front of the train and became wedged between the train and the platform. The man didn’t die until the authorities pried the train away and inadvertently released his guts to spill out all over the tracks.

“Excuse me,” Jack said to Weary. “Did you read the subway piece?”

“Yeah.”

“Do they have a suspect?”

“Yeah.”

The A train rumbled around the curve toward the platform. Jack raised his voice.

“Do they have a description?”

The man lowered his paper. “A vague one… Why?”

Jack turned back toward Twitchy. “Oh, just thinking worst case, I guess.”

The light on the front of the train shone across the platform.

“Don’t worry,” Weary said. “He ain’t the guy.”

“How do you know?”

“He doesn’t look a thing like me.”

Jack felt the shove, and then he was flying through the air. The last thing he saw were the tracks rising up to greet him.

The train got to him first.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Farewell to Heroes

I was told once that you’re not getting old until the people you looked up to as a child start dying.

Yesterday, Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, passed away at the age of 69.

Like many of my writing friends, I spent a big chunk of my childhood making characters, battling imaginary monsters, and rolling funny-looking dice. I spent a lot of time as Dungeon Master as well, creating several adventures and characters that sometimes never even made it to the gaming table. In short, Gygax is at least partially responsible for exercising the creative side of my brain and turning me into the storyteller I am today.

I was sitting in a meeting with my boss when I got the news. John had posted a note to Twitter about it, and his Tweet rolled across my cell phone as a text message. One moment I was discussing our technology budget for next year’s Apple purchase, the next I felt myself go pale and I lost track of what I was saying. I recovered and told the boss it was nothing, but the moment I got back to my office I hit Google News and got the full scoop.

Rest in peace, Mr. Gygax, and thank you for the years of entertainment and creativity you provided.

The guys at Penny Arcade put up a great tribute comic here.

News of Gygax’s passing prompted me to recall another name from my gaming days, Eric Wujcik. My friends and I were never quite sure how to pronounce the guy’s name, but we sure played the hell out of games he had written. I looked him up and discovered he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in December. He’s still with us and undergoing chemotherapy, but the cancer has already spread to his liver.

Talk about your one-two punch. I didn’t feel at all old until I learned about Gygax and Wujcik and recalled what I was told about childhood heroes. I haven’t had the opportunity to play an RPG game for years, but suddenly I feel like a part of my youth died.

I need to find my dice.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.