Friday, August 28, 2020

After School Special: Down at the Junk Yard


Around the summer of 1974 there was a vacant lot just off of 59th Street and Halifax Avenue South that was something of an eyesore in an otherwise nice, quiet residential neighborhood. It was referred to as "the junk yard" by local residents, as junk had accumulated in the lot over the years. An old mattress, tires, wooden pallets, pieces of broken down furniture, car parts, tin cans, bottles and lots of other crap. There was even an old steel garbage can there, filled with garbage, naturally.

A wooden fence directly behind the lot was plastered with old advertising posters for local businesses, political candidates from elections past and whatnot. "Enjoy the fabulous Neuman Burger. Exclusively at Neuman's Drive-In," read one prominent billboard. Neuman's Drive-In had gone out of business a few years back when McDonald's moved into the neighborhood. "Drink Col. Davenport, the 100 proof whiskey" read another. "Vote No on Proposition 21" urged yet another. No one even remembered what Proposition 21 was. There was even an old, outdated poster of Reddy Kilowatt promoting a local utility, saying "Electricity is penny-cheap." The electric bills people were getting from that same utility by that time indicated otherwise.

A group of neighborhood boys, classmates at the nearby school, most hovering around the age of 12, adopted the junk yard as their "official headquarters." The boys were Darren Armstrong, Don Russell, Todd Edwards, Mark Erickson and his brother Chris, who was a couple years younger. With school out for the summer, these boys were spending a lot of time hanging out "down at the junk yard." It might not have been the most ideal playground, but it was a place they could call their own (or so they thought), with lots of "neat stuff" lying around. Their parents didn't object, as long as they would "be careful" and were home by suppertime.

On a warm, sunny, somewhat humid late morning in June, the five boys were hanging out there, two of them sitting on an old, rotting couch, another on an old chair and the others on a tire and a pallet, all drinking from a six-pack of Seven-Up and eating from bags of candy procured from the nearby corner store as they enjoyed their summer vacation. And what would be more appropriate to consume in a junk yard than junk food?

"I tell you, man, this is the life," Don said. "No school, no rules, and we're drinking pop, eating candy and sitting amongst all this beautiful junk. It doesn't get any better than this."

The other guys agreed. "Yeah! That's right!"

Darren spoke up, holding up his can of Seven-Up. "I have a proclamation to make. I proclaim we are the Junketeers. All for junk and junk for all!"

"Yeah! Right on!" the other boys cheered, raising their fists.

Little did the guys know that some girls they went to school with had their own designs on the junkyard. Mrs. Dorsey, a longtime community activist who lived a few blocks up on Emily Avenue South, was organizing her 12-year-old daughter Lorna and some of her friends into Mrs. Dorsey's Neighborhood Beautification Committee. Their mission was to clean up and beautify the neighborhood, especially the junk yard over on Halifax, which Mrs. Dorsey called "blight on our community."

From the committee's official headquarters in the family dining room, Mrs. Dorsey got the girls fired up in a crusade to clean up and beautify the neighborhood. Over the course of a week, they went out carrying bags and picking up litter in the streets and sidewalks. They drew up leaflets at the dining room table promoting their cause, printed them up on the Mimeograph machine Mrs. Dorsey had in the basement and handed them out all over the neighborhood, chatting with people about their mission. They even took a set of acrylic paints and painted up the old red fire hydrant on the corner of 58th and Emily in pinks and yellows and greens and purples to make it "more pretty." It was illegal, but who was going to stop them?

Then they decided to stroll on over to Halifax Avenue, where the boys were playing a game of "junk baseball" using a wooden stick for a bat, and an old sparkplug for a ball.

"Oh no, here comes Lorna and her friends," Darren said. "So what's up Fore-lorna?"

"Don't call me that," Lorna responded. “We're in my mom's neighborhood beautification committee, and we're gonna clean this place up and turn it into a community park. It will be a place of beauty for everyone to go."

"The hell you are," Don protested. "This is our junk yard!"

"It's not 'your' junk yard," Lorna retorted. "And anyway, why do you even want to play around all this junk? Somebody could get hurt here. My mom says it's unsafe, and an eyesore and an ugly blemish on the neighborhood."

Jessica chimed in. "After we get rid of all the junk, we have to paint this fence and get rid of these ugly billboards." Pointing to the Reddy Kilowatt character on one of the posters, with his electric bolt body and light bulb nose, she said, "That thing looks creepy!"

Debbie pointed to the Col. Davenport whiskey sign. "Eew! My grandpa drinks that! It makes him talk funny."

"Hey, wouldn't it be nice to have flower gardens along the fence, and maybe a fountain over here as sort of a centerpiece…" Lorna suggested.

"Oh, and maybe a little playground over here," added Nancy.

The boys finally had it. "All right, that's enough. Get out of here," Darren told them. "Go vandalize another fire hydrant. This junk yard is ours!"

"Oh, we'll be back," Lorna giggled. "Tooteloo, boys!" The girls waved to them as they walked off, laughing.

Later that afternoon, the girls had a discussion with Lorna's parents about how to proceed. "You could just bring your pickup truck, Dad, and we could all help clean up the junk and then it could be hauled away," said Lorna.

"Just hold on there," interrupted her father. "It may be a good idea, but you've got to get permission from the property owner before doing anything like this. You can't just walk on his property and haul things away. It's his stuff and his land."

Seeing the disappointment on the faces of his daughter and her friends, he said, "I'll tell you what. I will contact the owner of the property. I will tell him we will volunteer to clean up his property if he gives his permission. He might say no but he could say yes too. It couldn't hurt to ask." The girls became enthusiastic again.

The next day, after coming home from work, Mr. Dorsey announced that he talked to the property owner and he gave them permission to clean up the junk yard if they do it that weekend. The owner told Mr. Dorsey, "I was going to hire a firm to clean it up. But if your neighborhood group is willing to do it for free, have at it."

Lorna jumped around in excitement and immediately called all of her friends to tell them the news.

That Saturday morning the Dorseys and Lorna's friends arrived bright and early at the junk yard. Mr. Dorsey brought his pickup truck, junk was tossed into the back of it and several trips were made to the city dump. Passersby stopped to chat, thanking them for doing it, and people driving by honked their horns in support. When most of the junk was cleared out, they began working on the fence, pulling down or scraping off the old advertising posters, and spreading several gallons of latex paint over it, making it look new.

It wasn't until later in the afternoon that the junk yard boys arrived only to find their beloved junk yard was…gone! They made a lot of noise about it, but there wasn't anything they could do about it.

"We got permission from the property owner to clean it up," Lorna boasted. "We're gonna turn it into a community park. But we'll let you play here too, if you're nice to us."

The boys just grumbled and stormed off. Meanwhile a reporter from the neighborhood newspaper interviewed the girls about their effort and took pictures, and the article appeared on Tuesday when the weekly paper came out and was delivered to every doorstep in the neighborhood.

But the girls' ambitions to build a community park were short-lived, as they returned a few days later only to be met with construction crews in hard hats and bulldozers. As it turned out, the property owner had already intended on building a new office building there, and took advantage of their offer to clean up the property for free.

Before long, the office building was up and the junk yard forgotten about. The junk yard boys and the girls of Mrs. Dorsey's Beautification Committee set aside their differences eventually. Lorna and Darren even dated for a time in high school, and she worked as a clerk in the office building a few years later while she was attending community college.

Decades later the old neighborhood has changed a lot. The office building is still there, expanded over the years, taking out nearby houses. The community is much more diverse now than it used to be, many of the smaller houses have been replaced, and franchise stores and big retailers have come in, replacing the corner stores and service stations that used to make up the business district of the neighborhood.

Darren, Don, Lorna and the others have moved on and most of them have kids of their own. And there is no way they would ever even think of letting their own kids play by themselves as they did as kids, much less in a junk yard.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Dr. Tim and the Subliminal Seductress


Dedicated to Deanna Love Burgess.


In 1971 a pirate radio station called WUCK-FM was broadcasting from the top floor of a three-story Victorian-era house located at 2737 Halifax Avenue South that was rented and inhabited by four young men in their early to mid twenties. The radio station was strung together by a long haired, bearded 24-year-old engineering student who called himself "Doctor" Tim Treeman, with a hand-built makeshift transmitter set up in one of the third floor rooms, a studio in an adjacent room that included a hand-built mixing board, microphone, two turntables and a reel-to-reel tape deck all set up on two old wooden desks, all of this wired to a rooftop antenna that could broadcast from a radius of several blocks to a few miles, depending on conditions. The station broadcast on the 107.3 frequency and didn't interfere with any legitimate radio stations, so it stayed under the radar of the Federal Communications Commission.

Programming was mostly progressive album rock. Everything from Mott the Hoople to Frank Zappa to Quicksilver Messenger Service to the Grateful Dead was played. But program director/operations manager/disc jockey Dr. Tim didn't have any real set limits on music, as he also played obscure pop singles and B sides if he liked them, plus a little jazz and blues. Music was supplied by a local store, Karma-Mantra Records, in exchange for frequent mentions on the air. In addition to music, Dr. Tim would do a little psychedelic poetry, much of it jotted down moments before he read it on the air. There was also editorial content about such things as the Vietnam War (against), pot (for), the draft (against), the brotherhood of man (for), the Establishment press (or "pig press") (against), the Underground press (for), plus public service announcements for such services as the free clinic and suicide prevention hotline. All in all, it was a pretty professional-sounding operation.

"This is WUCK-FM, I'm Dr. Tim and I'm here to play phonograph records," he would say in his deep voice, up close to the microphone, before hitting the start button on an already cued-up record on one of the turntables. When that song played through and ended, he'd go straight to another cued-up record on the other turntable, put a different record on the first one and cue it up, and so forth. At least once every half hour came an announcement that would go something like, "Music on WUCK-FM comes courtesy of Karma-Mantra Records, 1605 Roosevelt Avenue. Karma-Mantra is now your eight-track headquarters with the widest selection of eight-track tapes, plus eight-track car stereos. Get an eight-track stereo for your car. It's what's happening, baby!"

Elsewhere in the house on Halifax Avenue, there was usually a party going on. Dr. Tim and his roommates Barry S. Wilson, Kevin Leer and Eric Carlsberg turned it into quite a psychedelic mansion with colorfully mismatched furniture on the hard-wood floors, colored lighting, posters on the walls and a constant supply of beer and booze, and maybe some decent marijuana and other substances to make guests feel at home. And if somebody brought their own stuff and wanted to share it, that was beautiful, man.

There were other voices heard on WUCK-FM besides Dr. Tim. Barry, Kevin or Eric would often go up there and do a show for a couple hours, or a houseguest who was interested in trying it out, or someone who wanted to say something to the community at large. And then there was a mysterious, sultry female voice who would take over the airwaves from time to time, calling herself Renee the Subliminal Seductress. People within listening range of WUCK-FM wondered who she was, and whether she was affecting their subconscious minds broadcasting subliminal messages. Rumors began to spread that she, in fact, was.

The mysterious Subliminal Seductress was actually Renee Swensen, the 21-year-old youngest daughter of well-known local businessman, Larry Swensen. Renee was blonde, blue-eyed and gorgeous, and in case you didn't notice she was gorgeous, she'd tell you so. She enjoyed a comfortable upper-middle class upbringing in a lake front home, although she was sent to public school. Growing up, she was close to her father and coddled by him when he was home, which usually wasn't often enough with all the business trips, conventions and long meetings he had to attend. Meanwhile, her mother was more aloof, and was the one who kept her in line.

Renee was going to college with the goal of becoming a school guidance counselor, mostly at the behest of her parents. But upon getting there and being away from home for the first time, she felt the need to rebel, at least a little bit. Her new friends in the women's dorm, mostly from well-off families, introduced her to such things as alcohol, cigarettes and parties. She was much enamored with 1920s-era art deco fashion and so she liked to wear twenties-style dresses and smoke using a cigarette holder, fancying herself more as a modern-day flapper than a contemporary hippie. She had helped her father campaign for Richard Nixon in 1968 and continued to share his Republican leanings.

It so happened she and her college girlfriends went to a party at the house on Halifax Avenue, where she met Tim Treeman, and she immediately found him alluring. He was so completely different from the kind of guy her parents envisioned for her. He had long hair, a beard and wore dark glasses. His background was blue collar, his education was from trade schools, and yet he was a deep, intelligent thinker. She listened intently as he spoke on a wide range of subjects while most everyone else there was babbling nonsense. When she saw the radio station he built, she was all the more impressed. She quickly became infatuated with him and she was coming over to see him as often as she could. Tim's roommates started referring to her as his groupie.

It didn't take long, however, for her to win them over. When she saw how little food they actually had in the house, she started bringing some over and making them dinner, and if she spent the night, she'd make breakfast. Soon, she talked the guys into letting her host a fondue party at the house, making her very popular with the crowd that hung out there. She was also rather artistic, and so she brought paints over and started painting colorful flowers, hearts and other designs on the walls, putting her feminine touch in the bachelor pad, and giving everyone something fun to look at when they were using recreational substances.

The "Subliminal Seductress" thing came about the first evening Dr. Tim had Renee in the studio with him as he did his radio program. They talked together while the records played, and when Tim put on the headphones and started speaking on the air, she continued to talk in the background and it was picked up by the microphone. In an attempt to go with the flow, Tim told his listeners, "Renee the Subliminal Seductress is here, sending good vibes into your subconscious mind."

"I'm so sorry," Renee said after Tim removed his headphones, as another record was playing.

"No, that's cool, baby," Tim told her. "It adds to the atmosphere." A bit later, he opened the microphone while a record was playing, and had her say in a soft voice at a distance, "Sex, sex, sex, sex, sex." First at an even pace, then slower, then he told her to pick it up and say it faster and faster with more breath. Then he turned off the microphone and they busted out laughing.

Before long, Renee talked him into letting her do her own radio show. Women disc jockeys were fairly uncommon then, and Dr. Tim thought of it as another "revolutionary" thing for his station to do. He advised her to speak slowly and softly to sound a little less like a bubbly teenybopper, and he let her select the music she wanted to play. Her musical tastes leaned more toward Joni Mitchell and Judy Collins than hard rock. She called herself Renee the Subliminal Seductress on the air but refrained from whispering too many messages during the music because, Tim figured, "it might get us into trouble."

"Subliminal Seductress" was intended as a joke, a social satire on allegations being made at the time that marketers were slyly slipping sex-related subliminal messages into advertising to influence the subconscious minds of unsuspecting consumers. But to some people, just the suggestion of anything subliminal was no joke and from there, things started to snowball.

A few WUCK-FM listeners were claiming the broadcasts were having a strange effect on them, causing everything from weird dreams to desires to do things they wouldn't normally do. A man who was arrested in a home invasion just a few blocks from the house on Halifax Avenue blamed it on subliminal messages being sent over the airwaves by the station. Police, who knew the man, chalked it up to his mental illness and drug use, and being unaware of the existence of WUCK-FM, assumed it was part of his hallucinations as well. But the call-letters did appear in the police report.

Then a letter to the editor appeared in the daily newspaper mentioning the call-letters and expressing outrage that an unlicensed broadcaster somewhere within city limits was corrupting the minds of unsuspecting citizens with "subliminal messaging technique," suggesting it was a communist plot.

As city officials and law enforcement slowly became aware of WUCK-FM, they started monitoring broadcasts. The station did not broadcast on a set schedule, only when Dr. Tim felt like turning on the transmitter, and when it was on, the signal could only be heard in certain parts of town, which somewhat confounded attempts by authorities to investigate. When they were able to pick up the signal, officials listened closely for any potential subliminal messaging, as well as to song lyrics and spoken commentaries on the station for any obscenities or promotion of drug use and other illegal activity, such as draft dodging. Every questionable bit of content was jotted down in a log book, along with the date and time.

A complaint was filed with the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, DC, which promised to investigate. But other priorities for the government agency took precedence over some tiny unlicensed radio station run by a bunch of hippies that wasn't causing interference with other stations. So the police, in conjunction with the city council and mayor's office, decided to take things into their own hands.

On November 16, 1971, under the pretenses of complaints of a noisy party, police raided the house on Halifax Avenue. They arrested everyone they could get their hands on, while many others ran out the back door. They made their way up to the third floor of the house and confiscated the broadcasting equipment, as well as drug paraphernalia and other items found elsewhere in the house as "evidence." TV film crews were there and the raid made the top of the local Action News and Eyewitness News broadcasts.

Tim, Barry, Kevin, Eric and Renee were taken downtown, booked and charged with a number of alleged crimes, including disorderly conduct, conspiracy to provoke unrest, conspiracy to promote unlawful activity, possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia, and "broadcasting obscenities in violation of city code, using subliminal messaging technique."

The raid became an even bigger news story when it came out that the daughter of Larry and Lois Svensen had been among those arrested, and that she was, in fact, "Renee the Subliminal Seductress." People who knew the Svensens shook their heads in pity. "And she seemed like such a nice girl, too," they said.

The raid stirred a tremendous amount of controversy locally and on a national scale, as the story got picked up by the Associated Press, and thus made it into newspapers across the country, and film footage from the local affiliates appeared on the ABC Evening News, and on the NBC newsmagazine program "First Tuesday."

Ultimately, most of the charges were dropped, at least those pertaining to the radio station. Tim Treeman got his equipment back, but by that time he had received a warning letter from the Federal Communications Commission threatening fines if the station returned to the air, not because of the content of broadcasts, but because the agency's investigation found that it was an illegal operation, operating without a license and at higher power than would be allotted for such a station.

By 1972 the house on Halifax Avenue was vacated and the guys all went their own ways. Renee returned to a more "normal" life, graduated from college and became a school guidance counselor, until she realized she could make a lot more money with far less stress as a commercial voice talent. Her experience as a disc jockey at the underground radio station paid off quite comfortably in the end.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Love, Crystal

Theme song: "The Dangerous Type" by the Cars. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kQicIvb_9pc


Crystal worked part time at the Kinko's Copy Center. Back in the 1990s, stores with self-service photocopy machines were quite useful to those of us who didn’t have such fancy equipment in our home offices as scanners attached to personal computers. So I was a regular customer there, photocopying and enlarging pictures, copying and pasting stuff by hand for various projects and printing it up.

Crystal was always very helpful and friendly. She had an infectious smile and a great laugh, and she seemed to appreciate my sense of humor. She was twenty years old at the time I met her. She had a pretty easy-going personality, she was petite, with green eyes and thick, sandy-blonde hair with bangs, often times tied back in an elastic ponytail holder that was otherwise worn on her wrist, leaving her hair cascading around her shoulders.

As we were getting to know each other, I found I was starting to like her. When she wasn’t too busy with customers I’d wind up hanging around and chatting with her. Soon, I was finding excuses to do something at Kinko’s as often as I could, and would occasionally be disappointed if she wasn’t there because it was her day off.

As it turned out, she sort of liked me too. Over time we began meeting at a nearby Starbuck's coffee shop after her shift. It so happened she lived right by me, in a house with her brother David and sister-in-law Annie. Before long I found myself going to her house after work, on the evenings that she wasn’t working.

When we exchanged phone numbers, we would sometimes wind up talking on the phone for hours. Sometimes it was about the crazy people she would encounter at her work but often times it was about our lives’ ideals and dreams.

“My mom and step-dad threw me out of the house when I was eighteen,” she told me. “My step-dad is such a prick. He said I was a spoiled little princess who needed to be thrown out on my royal little ass. And my mom isn’t much better. She just basically agrees with whatever he says. So they made arrangements to move me in with my brother and his wife, and then they move to Florida! Just to make it hard for me to move back in with them. I mean, it was totally unfair. And my real dad hasn’t been in the picture at all since I was, like, eight.”

I was a few years older and as I got to know her a little more, she did strike me as immature at times. She complained a lot about her brother David and his wife Annie, who owned the house in which she lived. They were in their thirties, career people, having her as a border. I thought she had a good situation there, her own room, token rent payments, reign of the house and free meals. But she always found something to complain about. "They just want to control me. They expect me to pay them money out of my paycheck. They tell me to do this. They won't let me do that." Her complaints went on and on and on.

Overall, though, she just seemed like an all-around nice girl. She didn’t smoke, and she hated being around smokers. She’d sip a cocktail or a wine cooler but otherwise wasn’t much of a drinker. And she said she never had a serious boyfriend because, “I don’t need the drama. I get enough drama from David and Annie, and my parents, and my girlfriends and their boyfriends.”

“What I like about you,” she told me, “is you’re not all about drama. You’re more level-headed and intelligent than basically anyone I know.”

David and Annie were always cordial when I came over. David would offer me a can of beer and Annie would offer a snack from the kitchen.

“It’s good to see Crystal finally has a boyfriend,” David remarked to me the first time I came over.

“He’s just a friend, not a boyfriend,” Crystal retorted.

“No, it’s okay. Take her off our hands. We won’t mind,” David said to me with a laugh, but I sensed he might not have entirely been joking.

I was never really romantically involved with Crystal. I was kind of smitten with her, but we were mostly just pals. I might get a hug or a kiss on the cheek from her but that was as far as it went. I'd go to her house and have a few beers or we'd watch TV together. I'd reluctantly sit through Melrose Place, which took several beers to make that tolerable, but we both liked The Simpsons. There wasn't that much age difference between us but it sometimes seemed we were a generation apart. I liked watching news and intelligent talk shows and she liked watching that prime-time crap. She had no clue who Dick Cavett or Tom Snyder even were. I was also a big Frank Zappa head but she couldn't understand anything beyond top-10 hits. But we connected in a lot of other ways and that was a neat thing.

She knew I was a writer and we often sat in her room, door closed, and she'd show me notebooks of poetry and stories she was working on, asking my opinion. It amused me what a stereotypical "girls' room" she had, complete with a canopy bed and stuffed animals.

After an hour or two of sitting in her room, we'd occasionally walk to a nearby bagel place for something to eat. The closest I came to spending a night with her was when David and Annie were out of town for the weekend and we stayed up, watched late night movies and made omelets and Bloody Marys at one a.m.

In between visits we’d talk on the phone, and every so often she would send me a card in the mail, usually with a floral design on the cover and a quaint, hand-written message on the inside, such as, “Just wanted to let ya know I’m thinking of you!!! Love, Crystal,” with a smiley face drawn next to her name. I could even faintly smell her perfume on these cards.

Eventually Crystal's relationship with her brother and sister-in-law hit the skids. She could be a spoiled brat sometimes and they finally got fed up and told her to move out by the end of the month.

She called me, very angry and teary, when that happened. "How can they do this to me," she whined. "I'm family and they're betraying me. I'm going to kill them. I swear I'm going to kill them!"

I told her to "relax, take it easy. There are plenty of places you can move to and you won't have to deal with them anymore."

"I won't have to deal with them if I kill them."

I began to get irritated with her. "Will you quit with that, Crystal. You're being ridiculous."

"Fine!" she snapped.

After an intense few seconds, we moved the conversation to other things.

A couple days later she invited me over. David and Annie were there so I assumed she got things patched up with them. We sat in the living room and talked and things seemed normal when she abruptly said "Hold on, I gotta do something."

Annie was in the kitchen getting something to eat. Crystal came up behind her with this big hammer, the kind used to bust up rocks when BAM! She slammed it against Annie's head. Annie fell forward, she was out cold.

It was so surreal, I felt like I was only watching a movie or something. My first thought was simply "Wow, she's really going through with it."

David heard the commotion and came running downstairs in investigate when BAM! She knocked him down as well.

I was now stunned, not knowing what to do, not sure if I would be next and certainly afraid to touch anything. She just smiled as she looked at me and said, "Well, I suppose I might as well make sure they're really dead." She casually put down the hammer and pulled a couple of rags from the drawer in the kitchen, tying one around her brother's neck tight enough to strangle him. She went to do the same thing to Annie.

"Oh ick! She's bleeding!" She lifted Annie's head to fit the noose around her. "Eeew! She's bleeding through her nose. Gross!" The blood actually bothered her more than her own violent method of murder. It was surreal.

She then went upstairs and came back down with her diary and some notebooks. "I need to burn these things," she said, putting them in the fireplace and lighting them up.

Finally I said, "I better go. This is getting too bizarre for me."

"Okay. Maybe I'll call you this weekend. Bye, Sweetie."

I couldn't believe how casual she was acting, as if nothing major happened. I used my shirt to handle the doorknob on the way out. I wanted my fingerprints on as few things as possible.

I got home and I was in such a daze. I figured the right thing to do would be to call the police but I didn't want to snitch on a friend. She was, after all, always nice to me. But I realized that I was a witness to murder and it was my duty to come forward. I could be considered a suspect and she could even try to pin it on me.

But my friend actually spared me of that. She turned herself in and she eventually pled guilty. She later told me she cared about me enough to not want me involved in the mess. So why in the hell did she commit her crime in front of me then?!

Crystal was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. There is no death penalty here, though there was no shortage of pundits and other media blowhards calling for it when this case came to light. I couldn't bear to see her, this pretty, thinking, feeling, warm human being strapped down, stripped of every bit of dignity as she's killed by government officials in an institutionalized setting.

I haven't seen Crystal since she went to prison. They sent her up to this remote maximum security place that is hard to get to, although we do write to each other regularly. She signs her letters with a heart and smile face. How cute for a cold-blooded murderer.

She recently sent me a photo of her in her skirted prison uniform and that great smile. She signed it, "Love, Crystal," with a smiley face.

God, I miss her.