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What's More Dangerous Than A Dead Rat?


September 3, 2020

It is 9:57 am on Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020. It is raining hard outside the elongated picture window the previous owner of our modest home at 412 S. 9th Street installed when he (or she) converted this one-time garage into a comfortable, useful den. I am sitting in front of my trusty if aging Mac trying to come up with a column for this week's Countywide.

I also have to write the editorials but right now a column seems to be the best idea. That may be because I have a compact disc in the player and it's blaring out the poetry of Simon and Garfunkel. This particular CD opens with Mrs. Robinson and ends with Cecilla. When those guys weren't looking for their Bridge Over Troubled Water, they were clearly thinking about girls, I figure.

Meanwhile, I keep worrying about all the trouble that keeps undermining our country lately. That's a real bridge over very troubled water and somebody needs to do something about it. This time, I don't think finger-pointing and name-calling will accomplish much but the politicians seem to have other ideas. Ask Donald Trump or Joe Biden what they're really thinking if you ever get a chance.

One of the reasons yours truly keeps worrying is that I just finished skimming what some might call a "research article" entitled the "Top 100 Most Dangerous Cities in the U.S." That, of course, comes straight off the internet, which is full of statistical foolishness. I wasn't surprised when I learned that Detroit, Mich., held the dubious honor of holding down the No. 1 spot on what might be regarded as a roadmap to places no one ought to live. Detroit, the list of "most dangerous cities" explained, has the highest crime rate in the country. For every thousand residents, the article said, the Motor City suffers 20 violent crimes. Not good, I surmised.

But before I stopped reading, I happened to notice that Memphis was No. 2 on that list with a close-and-almost rating of 19.5 - and when our son Greg was growing from toddler to the fourth or fifth grades, we lived in Memphis and loved it. Crime? We knew there was some and recalled that during our pleasant stay on University Circle, a young lady was unceremoniously thrown out of a moving car and into our front yard. We went out to get her, brought her in, gave her a soft drink and called the cops. When they arrived, the police couldn't communicate with her. About that time, it dawned on me that I hadn't heard her say a word. I grabbed a pen and paper and wrote a message. She replied in kind and included her home address. The police drove her back to her mother. Case closed ... at least as far as the Trotters were concerned.

The most unsettling thing that I can remember about our years in Memphis unfolded when a heavy-set preacher roared into our newsroom and unceremoniously threw a large very heavy-set dead rat on my desk by its tail. That was in about the seventh year of my tenure at The Commercial Appeal, the leading newspaper in town, and no matter how you might count it, an absolutely top-notch publication. By then I knew how to handle this sort of trouble ... or at any rate, I thought I did. I asked the guy where the rat came from. He replied that he had found it in a creek. I asked what creek. He said he found the rodent dead in a little stream close to Southwestern of Memphis, a large campus that happened to be across Jackson Avenue from where the Trotter family happened to live. I told the preacher that. I also told him that he needed to speak to the editor, not me. I pointed him up to the front office and away he went, rat in hand.

I don't think I ever saw that guy again. He must have slipped out of the editor's office quickly and quietly and taken the front elevator two floors down to the safety of the advertising department.

"Where did you find that nut?" the editor asked with an unusual smirk on his face.

"He just walked in and brought his friend," I replied.

The editor said something to the effect of "yeah, I saw his friend." Beyond that, he didn't utter another word. I sighed a private breath of relief.

But back to the top one hundred scariest cities. Would you believe Shawnee is in there? It is. In fact, our next-door neighbor ranks 24th in this rundown of infamy, right between No. 23 Albuquerque and No. 25 Pontiac, Michigan. Shawnee's violent crime rate per thousand residents comes in at 13.6. For the record, those who live in Albuquerque have a 1 in 73 chance of becoming a victim and residents of Shawnee share that figure. In Pontiac, your chances would be 1 in 74. Believe it or not, but this study says you'd be safer in New Orleans. The violent crime rate in the Crescent City is 1 in 85 and violent crime rate per thousand residents is 11.8. All you have to do it the Big Easy is remember to leave Pat O'Brien's early (no problem during the pandemic ... the word is that the place is closed).

But now we have to get down to the basics and finish up this column and those pesky editorials. And yes, there are some other interesting things in these figures. If you're inclined to find out, go to https: // ... and the best of luck to you.


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