Dispatch from deplorable country: I shot the falcon, but I did not shoot the falconer

An especially bizarre bit of local crime news just crossed my transom. It’s out of Hazleton, PA, where my parents and I are spending the night en route to our old neck of the woods around Hershey, on the other side of anthracite country. A few years ago, Hazleton gained some notoriety in woke circles as a hotbed for guidos eager to use all positive law to oppress the wetbacks. Shit’s been on the skids for decades around here, so of course God’s swarthies aren’t on the best terms with one another. It’s fucking classic: pull the false floor out from under the local economy and stand back while those left behind balkanize themselves.

I don’t know all the details in Hazleton’s specific case, but I do know that the anthracite fields were played out beyond profitability in the mid-twentieth century and that every level of government in Northeastern Pennsylvania has done a hamfisted job of economic redevelopment in the old anthracite towns ever since. By the time my parents and I moved to Pennsylvania in 1992, Hazleton was noticeably worse off than either Wilkes-Barre or Scranton, neither of which felt prosperous. The latter two seem to have been just economically diversified enough (a VA hospital, several private colleges, Montage Mountain, Steamtown, hell if I can say what else) to maintain a critical mass and build on it while Hazleton fell hard into the pit. It ain’t Dunder-Mifflin tourism, fam; that’s some of the most embarrassing boosterism I’ve heard of in my life, and I’d be totally appalled if The Office had been set in Lancaster. (Lebanon, as always, deserves worse.) Having a freeway crossroads on the outskirts of town is worth jack shit, too: Hazleton has 80, 81, the Top of the 80’s, and ethnically fractious malaise being transmitted to its third and fourth generations by now. The Scarantoni and Sacarantez families keep beefing, ignoring the Scrantons and their generationally landed munificence. Yes, that’s the name of Scranton’s founding family, and yes, that medley of premium crackers is still on the scene around here, but mysteriously never in the fray with the dueling ethnics.

Those who are woke to socioeconomic injustice can easily blame the premium crackers for causing all the trouble by deplorably chucking all the poor ethnics into the hand-me-down basket with the salty crackers and demanding that these diverse dispossessed cordially #RaceTogether. It’s a bad setup, to be sure.

Then something like this happens. External loci of control can be blamed for quite a few vices and pathologies in left-behind America, and the stress of struggling to make ends meet in a left-behind town has to aggravate people’s existing demons, but this dude has something intrinsically way the hell wrong with himself, and the Company isn’t the source of whatever external validation he’s been receiving for being such a loose cannon.

What happened was that a practicing ammosexual lured a romantic rival into a late-night confrontation over the other guy’s girlfriend and shot the guy in the face and neck with a shotgun. A parking enforcement officer heard the shots, discovered the victim kneeling and clutching his bleeding face, and had the victim transported to a hospital for emergency surgery. At press time, the victim was in critical condition after surgery to remove shotgun pellets, with possible carotid artery damage, brain hemorrhaging, and inner ear damage that may leave him deaf for life.

The victim told the parking officer that he’d been shot by “George.” A few hours earlier, at around one in the morning, the victim had asked his son to come to a bar to serve as a witness in case “George” did anything violent during their manly woman confrontation. Police were able to identify “George” as George Salata by following his footprints into the apartment where he lived. He was arrested after a pre-dawn standoff lasting an hour or two and, for reasons not explained in the original article, arraigned in handcuffs, shackles, and a hospital gown. The judge remanded him in lieu of $100,000 bond and preemptively ordered him, in the event of his pre-trial release, to stay away from alcohol, other drugs, and his victim. The police seized “multiple rifles” from Salata’s apartment under the arraignment court’s order.

The original article is a jumbled, confusing mess, and the arraignment documents don’t sound much clearer, but there’s plenty that’s obviously wrong with George Salata and his victim, Michael Gontz. Gontz tried to have a family member witness an armed and probably inebriated lunatic’s increasingly belligerent tirade instead of leaving the bar and calling the police. Gontz had no idea what the lunatic’s surname was, even though he knew where “George” lived and they were arguing over his girlfriend. An apparently struggling and underemployed tradesman with a serious temper problem was maintaining an arsenal in his apartment.

The craziest thing about George Salata was that, in addition to several DUI convictions, he had been convicted and sentenced to jail in 2004 for shooting his brother’s hunting falcon during a dispute over some tools. This shit is fucking insane. As badly as Luzerne County has been treated in the midst of deindustrialization and the depletion of its economically recoverable coal reserves, this lustful hothead George and his idiot neighborhood girl-hoarder Michael brought this particular chaos down on themselves. Before this river becomes an ocean–never mind: different George, different Michael–before you leave that shrapnel in my face, here are some other foolish notions you should have reconsidered probably back in the Reagan Administration:

hoarding guns on a roustabout painter’s wages;

blasting a shotgun in your romantic rival’s face (a downright pedestrian foible under the circumstances);

arguing over tools;

accidentally shooting hunting birds;

somehow never figuring out what the hell your neighbors have in the way of last names.

The right wing makes plenty of noise about shitlibs not respecting the rights of gun owners, but shit, how do they think responsible hunters and target shooters feel when they’re represented by some wackjob who nearly blew a man’s face off because he covets his neighbor’s wife, habitually drives under the influence of alcohol, brandishes firearms while drunk, and shot his own brother’s hunting bird during a dispute over tools? (Nixon: “Craftsman? Christ.”) This is like the AAA being run for Gulf Arab Eurotrash who T-bone your Focus with their Lamborghinis during their drag races. Of course, this is pretty much what the NRA has become: an organization devoted to the aggrandizement of trigger-happy lunatics who would be frog-marched off the firing range by boiling-mad counselors at any decently run Boy Scout camp. And it must be annoying, to say the least, to be a normal, well-adjusted person trying to get by and better oneself in a washed-up old coal town when a noisy local subculture keeps encouraging the adrift local men, and often enough women, too, to promiscuously brandish guns during their fits of anger, like that’s what’s keeping the Redcoats from retaking Lexington. This is like letting structural Kajieme Powell speak on behalf of the entire Northside Community AND the St. Louis restaurant industry because Kajieme was from the neighborhood and, like any respectable prep cook, he always had a thing for knives.

I can say from disgusting personal experience with my slumlords in Eureka that it’s bad news not to know other people’s last names, especially when they’re shady. If someone’s batting at least three for seven in real time on the deadly sins and doing it loaded for fowl, it’s time to learn a cracker’s legal name yesterday. These dipshits literally do not know who their neighborhood bruisers are. Think about trying to serve legal process on a disruptive neighborhood under these circumstances: “His name is George. He lives over there in that apartment building.” Think about trying to help the police track a hothead down when he gets violent with you: “George shot me. He lives over there. Jesus Christ, my face is on fire.”

The people I really feel for in these situations, again, are more or less normal people trying to hack it around neighbors like these. They’re trying to salvage some remnant of middle-class stability from the wrecks of their communities while the police try to track down some guy with only one name by following his footprints through the snow.

More shootings happen in the summer than in the winter. Good fucking luck. You might as well join Paul LePage in publicly asking D-Money and Smoothie for interstate child support. Government isn’t the problem here. The scary thing is that government sure as hell isn’t the solution, either. God only knows what is.


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