Port Townsend, Washington, November 13, 1996 — A couple of years back, I worked as a delivery driver for a local pizza joint. During slow periods I had no choice but hang around the restaurant waiting, usually outside, but inside when the weather was cold. One of the owners, or “bosses” of the place was a thoroughly unpleasant and overweight woman who would fly into an occasional rage and start tearing into employees. She once sent a teenage girl running out the door in tears. Her name was Roseanne, just like the famous, unpleasant overweight woman of the same name. This woman didn’t like me, but I was an adult and had been around the block enough to know how to avoid her kind of trouble by practicing a form of “professional” politeness bland enough to bore anyone. Roseanne hated me all the more for this, and so it went.
One cold night, there were no deliveries, so I sat inside reading the newspaper. There was also no foot traffic and I was alone with Roseanne. Naturally, we did not speak. It was such a slow night, she only had one pizza cooking. She paced around the kitchen, grumbling to herself, obviously in the mood for a fight, but she knew she couldn’t get one from me. Roseanne was getting worked up. When she took the big wooden paddle to check the underside of the pizza, she accidentally flipped the whole thing over, spilling the gooey cheese and sauce all over the inside of the oven. Upon doing this, she whirled around with seemingly superhuman speed, eyes blazing. She was helpless — I’d seen her screw up, there was nothing she could do. More importantly, and worse, the desperate look in her eye told me she was looking for someone to blame, and there was no one.
This little town, the charming Victorian seaport and tourist trap with pretensions ranging from “artists’ and writers’ haven” to “politically correct new age/intellectual mecca” to “retirement paradise,” is currently awash in scandal, and like Roseanne when she spilled the pizza, is looking for someone to blame.
The pizza that Port Townsend is spilling all over the place these days is topped liberally with sex, which of course fits perfectly with its all-too-hyped “Victorian” sensibilities.
It started with Officer Lohner, a new cop on traffic duty who was, to be euphemistic, overzealous. This guy not only began a personal, vendetta-like campaign to bust as many people as possible for petty violations (seat belts, stop signs, etc.), he also harassed women for their home phone numbers and social security numbers. Office Lohner got a lot of heat for this, and rightly so. The guy was irrational and full of rage. He’s currently under suspension for an argument with someone over a parking spot near a lake, and while off duty, a pulled a gun on the guy.
Meanwhile, over the past year or so, there were a couple of gun incidents involving another cop, Sgt. Oberlander. The first time, Sgt. Oberlander shot and killed a man outside a local bar. The man was armed, threatening someone, and the official investigation declared the shooting “justified.” Then, recently, he shot someone else, a teenager, after stopping the kid for “suspicion of intoxication.” There were two officers involved. The kid admitted having a gun in the car, but it was his word against the word of two cops whether he picked it up. The kid says he didn’t, the cops say he did. It was Sgt. Oberlander who pulled the trigger, and once again he was cleared in the official investigation, but the hot word on the street was “trigger-happy.”
So, between Officer Lohner and Sgt. Oberlander the local law-enforcement community was coming under some scrutiny, to say the least. But, as it turned out, in true “Victorian” fashion, violence may be one thing, but sex is quite another.
You see, there’s a woman on the local police force, too: Detective Biffle. An anonymous letter was delivered to the chief of police and the mayor, alleging several specific incidents of police misconduct. All of these were not publicized, but the official denial process was in full swing when Sgt. Oberlander and Detective Biffle were caught in flagrante delicto, in a police car. As the story goes, some kids (teenagers?) came upon them whopping it up the back seat, and knowing that cop cars are rigged so prisoners can’t get out, shut the door on them. They had to be rescued by another officer. As if this weren’t embarrassing enough, Oberlander is married. The sergeant resigned immediately in light of this “inappropriate relationship.”
I couldn’t help thinking this incident might not have been so bad if not for the already shaky ground the police were walking.
Just today comes the news that city planner David Robison has been canned for falsifying master’s degrees on his resumé, but wait — that’s not all. Somehow, it’s also come to light in the same story that city councilmember Sheila Westerman, who quit last year due to “compelling personal reasons,” resigned because of the affair she was having with the city planner — you know, the one with no master’s degree.
Personally, I don’t care about the college degrees (he was apparently perfectly capable of doing the job) and I don’t care if he and a councilwoman were screwing. But coming so shortly after the police scandal, this really puts the pretend-Victorian moralism of the town in an uproar. Funny thing is, I don’t personally know a single person here who professes any kind of Victorian morality. It’s as if there’s some larger entity, a dark cloud of stern, punishing, stick-up-the-butt Puritanism that hovers over everything and dictates the public behavior of certain people, or failing that, eliminates them. It’s something like a corporation — a non-human force that requires humans to do its dirty work, and to which the humans are expendable.
The eliminated, expended humans, like the horny cop and city planner, like downsized corporate middle managers, are blamed for something and cancelled, and everyone left can feel good again — for a while. Meanwhile, the train — system, corporation, Victorian moral pretense, whichever — rolls on. And hard as it is to believe, we humans line up obediently and in ever-greater numbers to get aboard.