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Long Story Short: Seasonal duties—and hazards


illustration by JP Thimot


Dear hunters,

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that if you shoot a truck, thinking it’s a deer, you haven’t properly identified your target. To get a hunting license in New York State, you have to pass at least one course in hunting safety. This week saw two examples where safety violations caused accidents. One victim was a truck; the other was a person.


The details:

Here’s the way the New York Hunter Ed Course puts it: “Always identify your target ‘from tip to tail’ before firing.” Note that it does not say tail “light,” which rules out pickup trucks as legal game. But, as Robert Merritt of Springboro, Pennsylvania, discovered, that doesn’t always protect you against careless hunters eager to make the kill. Merritt was driving in the town of North Harmony, in Chautauqua County, when a bullet hit his brown truck. The pickup was shot in the front fender with a 7 mm high-powered scoped rifle. It was a successful hit; the first round disabled the vehicle.  


Marvin C. Miller of Middlefield, Ohio, was charged with discharging a firearm across a public roadway and second-degree reckless endangerment. This story might seem somewhat comical when told over a beer at the local bar and grill. But, as we have seen this week, hunter carelessness can have much more tragic consequences.


It gets worse

By all accounts, forty-three-year-old Rosemary Billquist was one of those people who derived happiness from helping others. She worked at a Jamestown hospital, was a hospice volunteer, and helped out at homes for the elderly. The evening before Thanksgiving, she was walking her dogs along her neighbor’s backyard in Sherman New York, when a bullet from a hunter’s high-powered, single-shot handgun ripped through her hip. Not only had the hunter not identified his target from 200 yards away, he took the shot after sunset in violation of hunting laws. Billquist was only 100 yards from her house when she was fatally shot. On Thanksgiving night, neighbors decorated a bench Billquist had previously taken from her home and placed outside a hospital, when she saw an elderly man struggling to stand while waiting for a ride. Together with her husband, the community held a vigil at the bench. The hunter has not been charged, but an investigation is ongoing. Jamie Billquist, Rosemary Billquist’s husband, says he knows the hunter’s family. 


The takeaway:

If you hunt, don’t let the desire to make the kill override safety. The hunter who shot Billquist is devastated as a consequence of his actions. And everyone should think about the words Billquist etched into the bench she donated: “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”



Trash talk

On October 20, Mayor Brown announced that the city of Buffalo will collect bagged leaves and yard waste from that day until December 1. This is a new feature of the city’s garbage service (and here “garbage” is an adjective). It’s frustrating for residents when suburbanites react with astonishment upon hearing the restrictions we urbanites must follow. “Really? We just put (fill in the blank) out by the trash and they take it,” they often remark, adding, “what do you do with it?” What indeed. What Buffalo should do, is clean up its sanitation rules, and offer services other municipalities take for granted.


The details:

In the past, lawn waste in clear bags was supposed to be picked up with the regular weekly trash collection every week. I know, because the Commissioner of Public Works, Parks & Streets, Steven J. Stepniak told me this on several occasions, when I called him after my leaf bags were left behind on trash day. I had tried 311 a couple times, but discovered they didn’t know all the trash rules. Who could? Stepniak was always very sympathetic and helpful, sometimes exhibiting frustration over the poor service.


Two years ago, I turned my annual bagged-leaf complaint into a creative arts project. I took pictures of the bags in front of my house every day, for two weeks, and assembled them into a serial collage. I stamped the date that each picture was taken over the image, noting which days were garbage collection days. You saw the bags gradually disappear under snow, and then reemerge with the melt. I emailed my work to Stepniak and the mayor, and the next day the leaves were gone. My question is, why is this necessary?


On the city website now, the rules seem to have changed. Instead of improving their service, the city wrote poor service right into the code. Under “City Departments, Streets/Sanitation” it says this: “Yard waste (grass clipping, tree limbs, brush, leaves) must be placed in clear bags or tied into four-foot bundles. The City collects yard waste and composts when time allows and during the six-week period after the leaves fall.” Look out your window right now. You see bare trees, and others with most of the leaves still clinging. So, when does that six-week period, “after the leaves fall,” begin? Certainly not October 20; the leaves had barely started falling then. And they don’t stop on December 1. Since there is no single day when everyone rakes their yards, the job of raking your property goes right through to spring, when the saturated foliage can no longer blow from your neighbor’s yard onto yours.


So here we are near the end of the impractical six-week yard-waste window, when it’s supposed to be picked up, and there are four bags of leaves in front of my house that have been there since November 1. Same for my neighbors. In four days, it will be December 1, and then the city only promises to pick them up “when time allows,” which must mean “only when you complain.” And if you read the fine print way down on the bottom of the city website, under the ads, you discover that two bags of yard waste per week qualify as bulk trash, and should be removed with the weekly trash pickup. They haven’t done that either.


On the Buffalo website, there is a tab called “Codes and Regulations for Garbage, Rubbish, and Refuse.” Click on this, and you will discover a myriad of archaic rules derived from the 1974 City Charter and Ordinances, that you have never heard of, and can’t imagine being enforced, but are still on the books. These rules are heavy on what citizens can’t do, and light on what the city will do. And there are some real gems. For example:

• If you keep “horses, cows, or other quadrupeds” in the city you must remove the manure yourself. And here I thought my cow manure fell under yard waste. Does the city know dogs are quadrupeds?

• “Scavenging, rummaging into, or picking discarded articles or material out of solid waste by persons other than owner or occupant, authorized City employees, or City contractors” is prohibited. What? The city has authorized garbage-pickers? This law is written in at least three different places, so it must be important, yet trash-picking is practically a cottage industry in Buffalo. Guys pushing stolen shopping carts make weekly neighborhood rounds. My favorite lamp in my living room was garbage-picked. And junk dealers, take note; this can cost you your license! That’s right, you apparently need a license to deal in junk.

• You probably know you can’t throw out TVs. But did you know this rule extends to printers, fax machines, scanners, modems, all the stuff inside your computer, keyboards, mice, wireless telephones, cell phones, and pagers, among other devices? But unless the website has an intent-altering grammatical error, this rule does not apply to “handheld televisions, portable MP3 players, iPods, digital cameras, and camcorders.” Let’s just assume it’s an error.

• All refuse shall be divided into two categories: combustible and incombustible. Combustible stuff can be thrown into the receptacle with the garbage. Incombustible stuff can’t be thrown out with the garbage. So, exactly what is garbage then?   

• If you figure out what garbage is, you can’t sell it. That’s against the law. But are people lining up somewhere to buy garbage? And I take it that this means I can’t sell my lamp.  


The takeaway:

Many of these rules are selectively enforced at best. Most are impractical and unreasonable. Many are outdated. And don’t even get me started on recycling. The guidelines for that are so complex, you need an instruction booklet to operate your garbage can. Why can’t the city streamline the rules, so they are practical and comprehensible? The Streets/Sanitation department doesn’t appear to care whether we adhere to most of the rules, so why have them? And while they’re rewriting the code, the city should think of ways to serve its citizens, instead of focusing on ways to penalize them.



It’s a wonderful Palace

“You see that movie a hundred times on TV, but to see it in a historic theater, with other people who are laughing and crying, it’s just a great experience,” says George Fritz. He’s talking about the annual Christmas favorite, It’s a Wonderful Life, and the experience of watching it in a very special place.


The details:

George Fritz is something of a George Bailey for Lockport. He owns Mills Jewelers on Main Street, which was the first place he worked as a young man, starting with sweeping floors, then learning the business, and eventually buying it. Fritz has been doing his part to pull the once thriving Erie Canal town back from the brink of Pottersville. He led a public fundraising effort to have a huge Main Street mural painted, celebrating all things Lockport. I worked on that mural with fellow artist Augustina Droze, and that’s how I learned that Lockport’s Palace Theater has yearly showings of my favorite holiday movie.


The Palace Theater is a beloved Lockport landmark, one of those grand movie palaces, much like Shea’s Performing Arts Center in Buffalo. In fact, the Palace opened in 1925, a year before Shea’s. “It has a long history in the community, starting with silent films,” says Fritz, “It was where many in town had their first dates, where I went for Saturday morning cartoons; people had their graduations there; there’s a great deal of nostalgia for the place.”


Watching It’s a Wonderful Life every year is also a nostalgic tradition for many of us. My wife, Renee, on the other hand, always hated it. Too sentimental, I suppose. Every year I l would learn when the movie was going to be on TV, and get excited; “Oh, I have to watch that!” I say, and Renee would moan. This made no sense to me; how can anyone not like Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Bert and Ernie, Zuzu’s petals?


But I figured that visiting a historic theater would grab Renee’s interest, especially if I threw dinner into the deal. So, two years ago, we went to one of the showings. I was excited to see the Bailey saga played out on the big screen; Renee was still prepared to hate it, but on a grander scale. Both of us were delighted to discover that the theater has rearranged the seating rows so there is a great deal of legroom now, unlike Shea’s, where tall people must assume one of several pretzel-themed positions to fit.   


Seeing a movie with other people—especially this movie—is a communal experience. It becomes a living organism, gaining energy from the audience. As we watched, something magic happened. Not Clarence-caliber magic, but magic enough. Early in the movie I glanced at Renee, and she was laughing. Not just smiling, but full-throated chortling. But how could anyone not laugh, with a whole audience laughing? This kept up, and I could see that Renee was gradually being won over, drawn in deeper each time Bailey was drawn back to Bedford Falls. By the time the bell rang on the Christmas tree, she was wiping tears from her eyes. “It is a good movie, huh,” I asked, knowing the answer. 


Renee thought the reason it was better, was that the movie on TV was different, cut maybe. Something. Nope, I said, having seen it numerous times. I assured her that she had just seen the same movie she hated all those years. Viewing it in a theater focuses your attention, reveals nuances not easily caught on TV. Hi-def TV does a better job than the old nineteen-inch sets, but there’s nothing like the big screen in a vintage movie palace to transport you back to simpler times.


The following year, we brought my son, daughter-in-law, and grandchild. 


The takeaway:

If you love this classic, you know what you have to do. Gather some friends, or family members, and head to the Lockport Palace on Main Street. It will be showing December 8, at 7 p.m., and December 10, at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.



Artist and educator Bruce Adams is a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.



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