The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Gary Grossman

January 19, 2014

Doing the hokey pokey

In the newspaper business, we occasionally receive visitors who want to give us a piece of their mind even when they do not seem to have extra amounts to surrender.

This was more often true in New York and New Jersey, where public leadership organically emerges from the Mario and Andrew Cuomo/Chris Christie school of charm.

In New York, my office chairs were on either side of a corner table that had a lamp. On the table, I regularly collected and placed little plastic toy figures, the ones you wind up with your thumb and forefinger so that they wobble, scoot or twirl around as they click their way back to sleep.

The table had Donald Duck, Mickey and Minnie, King Kong, and characters from Toy Story and Star Wars, whose names I cannot recall. There were also a couple of fancy kaleidoscopes and some magnetic monkeys.

When overwrought visitors were in, I would briefly excuse myself so they could enjoy the collection unobserved, or else I would inadvertently bump the table, which was sure to get several toys moving around long enough to interrupt the flow of negative energy.

The toys always seemed to settle things down.

In Jersey, I had a hand-crafted wooden sign, somewhat the size and shape of a pledge paddle, with stylized black letters on a white background. It said, “What if the hokey-pokey really is what it’s all about?” That sign was a mood changer.

Big philosophical questions should be delivered in aphorisms — 10 words or less about the nature and meaning of life. To accommodate the Golden Rule, we could allow 11.

Which brings us to another sign worth pondering, which advises, “If you follow all the rules, you miss all the fun.” (Maybe 11 words should be the standard.) For a while, I was counting on Samantha Carlson, her dad “J.C.” and perhaps their lawyer Joel Wiest to help us all accept this as they campaigned to build a play house on a lonesome stump in the front yard of 701 W. Spruce Street, Selinsgrove.

Father J.C. wanted to build daughter Samantha a tree house. The front yard stump was what they had to work with. Neighbors didn’t mind. It was against the rules. Setbacks, don’t you know. And rules are to be followed — not circumvented, excepted, ignored or toyed with.

We can all respect that. That first fateful step on the road to anarchy, chaos and deprivation could very well begin with a father’s whimsy for his daughter’s birthday.

The court acknowledged the danger of dads going off the grid in the ruling, stating, “If there is any hardship, it is created by (Carlson) by his insistence on creating a playhouse four or five feet above the ground on the existing stump so he can call it a ‘tree house.’” Until this week, I believed that a media spotlight might sway minds toward a compromise, perhaps some temporary situation that permitted a stump house in the accepting neighborhood just until young Samantha went the way of Jackie Paper and turned Puff the Magic Tree House into an Instagram moment.

But no. Can’t do for one what you won’t do for all.

We used to use that one — the all or nothing dodge — in the newspaper business, too, any time some reader asked us to do something we did not like. “But then we would have to do that for everybody,” we would explain, as if that mattered to the person asking us to do something.

A couple of newspapers ago, I decided we would do what readers asked, even though other customers might ask for the same thing. If all of them insisted on having it, we would not call it inconvenient. We would call it market research and customer service.

Judges probably don’t have that flexibility. We understand. But others should put a left foot in and shake it all about. J.C. Carlson did that for nine months for his daughter and created a series of newspaper clips that, some day, Samantha will probably appreciate far more than the tree house that never was. 

Gary Grossman is the publisher of The Daily Item and The Danville News.

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