Finishing a rewrite of “Swamps of Jersey.” The mystery part of the story is placed in the context of a hard economy, a devastating flood and fractured politics. I use reporter Jimmy Dawson to catalogue all this. Here is one of his summations near the end of the story:
“Where have you all been?” Dawson asked in a newspaper column. “We missed you. Let me catch you up.
“Problem is, you’ve heard all this before. It’s the same bad actors treading on a barren stage reading from a well-worn script. You’ll recognize the characters.
“But I’ll tell you anyway.
“While you were gone, a few billionaires have been trying to buy Congress, and doing a pretty good job of it. Congress took most of the year off except to vote on naming post offices. It might have been okay they did, but you might have noticed in your travels that the economy is running a little slow. Maybe there was something the President and Congress could have done about that.
“Federal authorities charged a lot of politicians with stealing your money, but that happens so often that you probably didn’t even raise your head from the pillow; hardly enough of an activity to rouse you from slumber.
“The big banks got in trouble again, but that’s been so constant, it’s what we expect. The banking bosses will get hauled before a Congressional committee and on television promise never to do it again. But they will; they always do. Your money is probably safer under a mattress, and the bedbug is paying better interest.
“So if you haven’t noticed, the world’s gone to hell in a handbasket. And know what? Everyone who can, will blame you. Yeah, it’s your fault. I saw you out there. You can’t make up your mind. You stand on opposite sides of the street waving signs and yelling at one another. You want to tax the rich, send the Mexicans back across the border, and tell women they can’t have sex or babies out of marriage. You want all the homeless off the street, but you don’t want the government to buy up houses that became empty when the banks foreclosed, yet you want the banks to pay for being greedy. You didn’t like the idea that the government bailed out the auto business, but you want all those unemployed people to find a job. You don’t want to pay more taxes, but complained when the school board fired a third of teachers because they ran out of money.
“Everything we used to think was wrong with someone else is now wrong with us.
“So what you are going to do is put down the signs, take off the silly hats, stop spouting sections of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution that you don’t get right in the first place, and truly don’t understand, and buy each other a beer and talk. You can disagree, but start talking. The longer you delay it, the longer all of this will be wrong.
“And once you’ve decided the guy you worked with for the past twenty years hasn’t really changed, but is just one more person trying to do his best to raise a family, grow some tomatoes, take a week down the Shore and keep his head above water, the better off we’ll all be.
“And then you’re going to head out to the Forty-Six Motel and talk to Tommy Robinson. You remember Tommy. Seven years ago he played quarterback when the Ironton High football team won the state championship. You were standing on Blackwell Street with more than half the town yelling your crazy head off when the bus got back from Giants Stadium. The police cars and fire trucks led the way and for an hour or so, all the things that you thought bothered you were gone because those forty-five kids did the town proud.
Then Tommy married Camilla and they had that great baby girl. He went to work for the delivery company but also joined the Army Reserves. And a year later it all changed. He did two tours of duty in the desert war and when he came home you all forgot to welcome him.
“Well, you can welcome him now, because the delivery company didn’t hold his job, and Camilla and the baby were thrown out of their house, and if it wasn’t for the church and some other folks they might have been living in the stoveworks when it burned down, and you really don’t want that on your conscious, do you?
“Maybe you saw him at the city council meeting the other day. His head is shaved now, but his eyes have that direct, piercing stare of the truly committed. He looks a little beat up. He came to ask the city council for some help. He needs a job and there is some red-tape holding up some of his Army Reserve pay. He wants to get his family out of the Forty-Six Motel and back into a decent apartment. The baby is three now and sometimes plays in the parking lot and there are a lot of cars. The city council thanked him for his service and told him how proud they were of him, but they had no answers for his questions.
“After a moment or two of watching the city’s leaders stare at one another, Tommy Robinson said, ‘I don’t want you to feel sorry for me. I just want a chance to raise my daughter well. I just want the same chance that fathers who came before me had. It’s not about the uniform. We serve proudly and willingly. It doesn’t make me special. I just need your help right now.’
Then he turned and walked out of the room. He stopped as his wife helped him settle his crutches under his arms and helped him maneuver through the narrow aisle on the one leg he had left.
“So when you wake up this morning instead of worrying about whether your neighbor is a socialist, or whether the French or the Spanish or the Greeks are going to ruin the American economy, think about Tommy Robinson.
“He’s the reason you get to yell at your neighbor, just like generations of soldiers before him. He’s the reason you get to be so disagreeable.
“We are a nation that was born arguing. It is what we do best and it is what separates us from all the other nations. So revel in our raised voices, find joy in the sound of the words we speak. Celebrate our differences and defy all those who tell you to conform, to damn the other side. We live to disagree. The louder the better. Roar on, Ironton. Push back against the silence. Rise up. Rise up. And forward.”