Tyler's Reporter Blog

Do you believe in ghosts?

Friday, October 29th, 2010
Tyler Murphy

Undetectable consciences that drift from the flesh of death.

A state of being beyond our instruments but detected by the senses.

A sound in the dark, the brush of a cold draft in still air, the tingling of sudden tension, a glowing light with no source.

The first year of the Evening Sun’s Ghost Hunt (Aug. 2007) Jessica Lewis and I were walking in the Eaton Center’s attic. There were a number of large areas closed off to the public and the crew had dived up into small groups.

Wondering ahead we stumble upon an entrance to the building’s highest floor. The rooms long windows were etched with the watery veins of heavy rain and cast in an amber glow from the street lights outside. As skeptics desperate for a good scare we walked forward without the benefit of our flashlights. We both leapt as the ceiling above us began to pound. It was as if someone was smashing a rock against the roof. After a moment of what seemed like insistent and impatient knocking the sound suddenly stopped.

We glance out the window and saw the whipping storm and the parking lot several stories below. We imagined falling debris to be the culprit but nothing stood above the tall building. Tumbling shingles perhaps, or some other object may have been clobbered by the strong winds. I still have no idea.

This is what wrote at the time. “The roof of the Eaton Center suddenly banged as Jessica and I walked beneath it, scaring us half to death. The ceiling knocked very loudly; it was six feet above us on the top floor of the building, so unless someone was on the 45 degree slated roof 100 feet in the air while it was raining outside, I have no explanation. The sound repeated several times and we stared at each other completely clueless and concerned. Just like that guy in those cheap horror flicks who says ‘Maybe it was the wind,’ right before he’s slashed to death.”

I walked up and down the attic space trying to provoke a second response. (Wow, did I really just admit that?) I stared for long moments through the greasy window panes waiting to witness a logical explanation. The freight of the initial noise gave my mind little time to triangulate an origin and I listened carefully hoping the sound might repeat to reveal a source.

The fact that the banging never returned and no obvious answer could be calculated has left me puzzling ever since. But just because I couldn’t figure one doesn’t mean one doesn’t exist. I’m not quite ready to believe in the supernatural just yet. If such theories were so easily assumed I’d be blaming ghosts for my misplaced car keys every other week.

I guess you could say that’s the most Ghostly experience I’ve so far encountered in the our hunts. So far I haven’t seen anything that would change my mind but there are often creepy moments in our Halloween ghost hunting adventures. The best of these experiences seem to take place alone or in a small groups of people, in remote parts of our trip and are often accompanied by a report of an unexplained noise, a change in temperature or a rise in emotional tension.

Our mediums (professional ghost hunters, psychics, spirit talkers, angel summoners) often supply us with these tense moments, as much as they allegedly sense ghosts they seem just as initiative to other people’s anxieties. Whenever there seems to be a person professing they experienced “something” they jump in and apply their spooky craft to the moment.

Sometimes I feel it’s just adding spice for flavor but the people taking part in these explorations, sometimes our staff included, actually do believe in them.

Living vicariously through “believers” can be very intense. When someone you know personally is willing to look you scared in the eye and make a paranormal claim it can be down right unnerving. When these sorts of things happen I’ve felt my own emotional tension rise.

I find it curious and thrilling but you’re going to have to prove it to me before I believe in ghosts.

Is that so much to ask?

Worth a thousand words

Friday, October 22nd, 2010
Tyler Murphy

I love photography.

When I first starting writing for the paper I never would have imagined snapping pictures would become such an important part of the job. I was told the reporters often took their own pictures to go with their stories and the editor gave me the standard issue digital camera.

A few years later the standard issue is no longer a digital but a 55mm Nikon D40. If you don’t know a lot about camera’s the old digitals we used to have were lower quality and similar in size and appearance to a bulky cell phone. The D40 looks just like a camera should, something you’d see around Clark Kent’s or Peter Parker’s neck.

I’ve developed my camera skills enough to be designated the newsroom’s back-up photographer on a number of occasions. I carry with me a 200 and 300 millimeter lens, which are like medium range sniper rifles for a photographer.

From about 10 to 30 feet the 200mm is choice and comes in handy for those situations were you want to get good pictures of people without them knowing you’re even there. I use it a lot in schools, community meetings and keeping my distance during a perp walk.

The 300mm is the great for controlling what I’d like to have the viewer, and often the reader, focus on. Looking through a 300mm lens is like looking through a pair of binoculars. You can only focus on a small range of depth at a time.

It comes in handy when I’m in a courtroom because I can focus in on a defendant while the jurors sitting in the background are blurred beyond recognition. Wildlife and emotional close ups of people’s expressions are also often captured. The 300mm means I can stand a 100 feet from an accident scene but still get a close up picture.

One time gas well workers barred me and another coworker from a gas well fire in Lebanon. Determined to get a picture I climbed a hill across the valley, zoomed in from maybe a few hundred yards with the 300mm and captured a decent image of the actual fire anyway.

Another time I was snooping out front of a drug front in Norwich snapping distant close ups of state police and city investigators. The officers finally noticed me and asked to delete some of the images because a few of the troopers were working undercover.

Some of the best photo opportunities are during community events like Pumpkin Fest, Colorscape and the Chenango County Fair.

Wandering through these events I often look for random people doing interesting things and take their picture. By doing this I meet all kinds, from all walks of life. I love leaving the office knowing the rest of the afternoon will be spent looking for good pictures. I enjoy the random people just as much as I do the photography and most are grateful to be published in the paper.

Kids are great in pictures because they don’t seem to care. Most adults get so anxious they make themselves look worse trying too hard to look better. Just relax, smile, and remember I asked to take your picture for a reason.

Also I’ve never had a parent say no to taking a picture of their child and often enough once they’ve said yes to that I can talk them into getting into the picture too.

Yesterday I traveled all around New Berlin and Columbus. I took pictures of a local business, a elementary school project and some great nature pictures at a sheep farm. Later today I’ll be following the Evening Sun to the darkest corners of Chenango County looking for ghosts. Being a skeptic these adventures tend to be more about capturing an image of creative art. As a newspaper journalist we have ethics on our presentations so we don’t modify pictures beyond cropping and a little lighting but these editorial adventures offer a chance for a lot of fun.

All together I’ve probably received just as much positive feedback for my photography as I have my writing.

Down with the sickness

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010
Tyler Murphy

My conscience slowly comes to the surface. My mind more clogged than my nasal passages.

I imagine a struggling quicksand victim whose just manage to pull their head and torso free. Exhausted and out of immediate danger they collapse on solid earth with half their body still submerged in the pit. It’s a similar moment of desperate respite a ship wrecked victim might find after swimming to shore. They excruciatingly crawl onto the beach and then pass out with the shallow tide still brushing up against them.

But instead of sand and water I toss off half a blanket and try not to fall back asleep. The alarm will sound again in about 8 minutes and I have that time to decide if I’m going to get up at all today.

I hate knowing I almost always have too.

The air is cold and stale. All the wonderful functions of the nose have been taken for granted. Being forced to breath through the mouth during a long, restless night has left my lips so chapped the skin feels like it’s cracking open. The sore throat which felt like an open wound the night before is now a choking scab.

An internal diagnostic only underestimates the affliction while I’m lying in bed. The real measure of illness is how we feel when we try to get up for the first time.

I lurch for the shower and the sheer bliss of hot running water. Breakfast is a cherry flavored cough drop and some green tea.

I attracted this pestilence sometime last week and it devoured my weekend with tissues, coughing and sweat pants. But apparently that wasn’t enough and now it’s tormenting me during the work week. The plague, where ever it originated, has swept through the office coworkers faster than the local gossip. Jeff, Melissa, Brian and Jan are among the fallen casualties, that’s nearly a 50 percent infection rate among the newspaper’s workforce in two weeks.

Hearing the chorus of sneezes and coughing fits the Evening Sun has apparently become ground zero for this year’s first seasonal infection. Maybe not.

Making a few phones calls this morning I encountered a number of strange voices answering the lines. They were the same people as usual but speaking in short, low, raspy whispers of death. Obviously we’re not the only ones.

I’ve been both a little scared and impress by the speed at which everyone from my personal and private life seems to have fallen ill within the last few weeks. The sad thing? These are but exhibition matches in the wretched sickness season.

The worst illnesses are the ones that hover between the mild and severe. Teasing your immune system just enough to keep you functional.

I must admit the compassion I’ve received from some has been more than I expected. Thank you Melissa Stagnaro and Joe Angelino for the cold medicine and tea. The joking lack of compassion for my “guppy immune system” has been equally up lifting. So thank you for the laughs Jeff Genung.

Is anyone else out there feeling the sickness?

Ask, tell.

Friday, September 24th, 2010
Tyler Murphy

Republicans in the senate succeeded in delaying a vote on repealing the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of the United States military this week.

My question is why are so many Republicans against being gay? (at least publicly) So they can score votes from their support bases?

From marriage to serving their country the attitude towards the entire homosexual community and their rights is now being burdened with the weight of polarizing politics on the eve of a competitive election season. The unfortunate and unfair result is that a large base of political supporters, conservatives generally, are becoming fiercely biased toward any concessions to these issues.

I don’t get it.

My first basic understanding of modern freedom: Our society was formed upon the assumption that people are free to pursue their own beliefs so long as those paths do not obstruct the rights of others. Basically we’re free to do what we wish unless those actions handicap another person’s right to do the same.

These philosophies are applied to many diverse groups in many areas.

I can burn the flag even if it offends people and it doesn’t infringe on their rights to respect it. You can worship anything you wish from Zeus, Christ, Muhammad and science so long as those followings don’t hinder others to do the same. We can marry who we wish outside of our race, class or cultural beliefs.

I’m a person who has always been suspicious of why exactly government ever got into regulating love (marriage) to begin with. I think government has absolutely no right in managing marriage, it is after all a religious practice. Our country’s modern interpretation for the last couple centuries has been based on strict Christian traditions. Again, I’m still not sure why a particular religious belief has been made into an official government policy- probably because of religious lobbyists pushing their own agenda. Some things never change.

Today, right wing religious organizations are the main driving forces behind the ban of gay marriage and gay rights. Their support is drawn from areas of the country that are mainly republican. More than right and wrong, political geography has put the party at odds with the Democrats on the issue.

Let’s make this clear. I respect religious beliefs but when they begin to hinder other people’s rights I’m appalled. I do not care that someone’s god thinks I shouldn’t marry a certain person, I care far less what a mere mortal follower may think. It’s not my god, not my belief so why must I be restricted by them, as many homosexuals are forced to in states with laws against gay marriage and the federal military ban.

People also say it’s the status quo of American culture, that the institution of marriage represents a developed American value as much as it does anything else. Yeah, those arguments are always made during times of civic change, usually by people fighting on the opposite side of civic justice. If things never changed we’d still be an aristocratic white male dominated society built on ethnic slavery. Change is good and the bottom line is there is no grand impact on the rest of us by having a minority group make a separate sexual preference.

A homosexual can pull a trigger just as well as a straight person; they feel love and loss the same way.

Oppositions to these issues are as much about their opponents’ beliefs as they are about homosexual’s.

Some have said having homosexuals in the military will cause security risks. No, wait, actually our policy says you can be gay in the military but telling people you are is a security risk. That I can believe.

I’m going to guess that in the isolated, macho, military culture the individual stepping out of the closet may be in more danger from scrutiny of his peers more than anything else.

We have Muslims, immigrants, white, black, male, female, and all things between openly serving our country. Homosexuals are only allowed to fire or take a bullet so long as they don’t express their own identities? Dumb.

Many other countries have gays serving openly, including the U.K., and they have recorded no such increase in any physical risks, only political ones. A soldier’s moral may be hurt, but it will only harm those people who are unwilling to adapt and accept differences.

I think others might find America’s embracing of diversity as a moral boost, knowing that they’re serving a country who respects people in all walks of life.

Gone Fishin’

Monday, July 26th, 2010
Tyler Murphy

One of the many outdoor passions of my youth was fishing. I haven’t really had the opportunity to cast a reel for several years and after talking up the glamorized thrills from my exaggerated childhood memories for a day or two I was eager to get the chance.

Having never been before in her 25 years of life, I was able to talk my girlfriend, Colleen, into joining me for the trip. We do a lot of outdoor activities together and fishing seemed like a natural fit.

On the shore, hooks dangling, I snatched a dirt covered nightcrawler and approached.

Despite Colleen’s formidable constitution earned during her childhood years as the daughter of a dairy farmer, she back away with disgust and a suspicious looking grin. This is when the whole activity started to give me pause.

Though I had recalled many-a-fine fishing memories in the days leading up to the trip I neglected to remember that gruesome act of holding a squirming 6 inch worm as I forced it onto a piece of barbed metal. As I took hold of the hook I also realized I’d have to perform this gruesome act right in front of the wide eyed girlfriend.

If you’ve never done this or haven’t had the chance to see it allow me to explain. First it’s good to realize that the typical store bought nightcrawler is between 4 and 8 inches, depending on how far they decide to stretch.

First you have to tightly press the worm between your fingers. A film of fine silt and slime slips across your skin, like you just wiped a running nose with sand. As you do this the worm’s other end tends to whip wildly striking your palm and backhand hard enough to make an occasional smacking sound.

Like weaving a organic accordion you work the hook along the worm’s body until you’re satisfied it can’t slip free. Despite being impaled the length of its body most nightcrawlers will continue to fight against the penetrating steel even after they’ve been tossed into the water. Every once in a while you get a worm too big to use in just one baiting and you have to physically tear it in half, convenient if there are two people.

So I pressed a fingernail into the worm’s middle guts and yanked it apart, it elastically stretched out then snapped in half. I turned and reached out to Colleen with the other half.

I had raise the bar of expectation too high perhaps and was immediately confronted with a very resolute sounding, “Nah, that’s OK. You can do it.”

This whole experience never even gave me pause as a kid but as an adult who carefully takes spiders out of house in tissues and hates to squish even an ant on the sidewalk, I suddenly felt very cruel.

The next hurdle came later when (of course) the first fish we caught together swallowed the worm, hook line and sinker. I pulled the medium sized Yellow Perch out of the water and Colleen came over to see the next skill she’s have to harness in order to be a fisherwoman.

I open the fish’s mouth and all I could see was a line leading into the depths of his gullet. Another important thing to know about fishing is it isn’t always harmless. Although 95 percent of the time a hook will be caught near the fish’s mouth and easily removed with some patience and pliers an over eager minority seem to set the hook deep in the digestive system. At this point there are two choices, cut the line or risk removing the hook. Both have the potential to kill a fish through infection or injury. The problem is amplified the smaller the fish.

So like a bomb technician standing along side a pond I surgically reached inside with my needle nose pliers and began testing the resistance on the hook. If it had been a fuse we’d be dead. Long story short it was a heartfelt attempt but in the end I had to cut the line. I hate doing this because I’m an environmentally conscience sportsman, I like to catch, release and relax in the sun. The smaller my impact on the ecosystem the better.

The day did eventually move on and after the initial failures there was a rush of excitement as we reeled in a number of decent sized Sunfish, Chain Pickerel, and even a Brown Bullhead. Colleen actually hooked the trophy of the experience, a sizable Largemouth Bass.

Over all the trip must have been a success because we later went on a few more fishing trips. There was a beautiful four pound Largemouth Bass I pulled from Millbrook Pond. That high achievement was then followed by the low comedy of accidentally getting myself caught on a hook while it was still in the fish’s mouth. Nothing hurts like connecting your finger tip to a heavy fish with serrated metal as it flops around for dear life. Funnier yet was watching Colleen put her first worm on the hook. Using two leaves she cleverly managed to get the worm on the hook without ever actually touching it. Though it took about 25 minutes to complete the task.

The beauty in it

Friday, June 11th, 2010
Tyler Murphy

This past week my long time girlfriend landed a good job fresh out of college and my best friend decided he was going to get married. The best man being yours truly.

These life developments I must admit fall in a span of time long spent on pondering the next direction my life should take. I wonder sometimes if that mode of thinking will always be the case, at what point can one say I think I’ve gone far enough? Even if the money was good and never ending I’m still not sure that’d be enough to be content.

Do you ever feel the stirring part of your mind, the restless skeptic, the nagging perfectionist, the constant urge of positive personal reform and professional success.

I’ve been an Evening Sun reporter for a few years now. I’ve seen just about as much excitement in my tenure here as any other previous crime reporter. Three murders, one returned on appeal, a couple of fatal drug shootings combined with tens of thousand in seizures. Maybe a dozen fatal accident scenes, another half dozen suicides. Before I worked for the paper I only ever saw one dead body outside of a funeral. The first one I saw on the job was a woman my exact same age, sharing an identical birth date. If those random similarities weren’t true I doubt it would’ve made such a lasting impression.

Tell me that’s not weird.

Her distorted body was crushed in a freak car accident. I could draw you a picture of her blood covered upper torso hanging out the driver’s side window with snow gently accumulating on her long blond hair. I’ll never forget the sight. I stood there in the snow and made myself remember. It makes me feel like police, firemen, EMS and emergency workers in general don’t get enough credit.

It’s been interesting.

I’ve had defendants beg me to tell their story, I’ve had others spit in my face. Through the middle fingers and tears I’ve never taken any of it personally.

I’ve sat through maybe 10 full criminal trials now. Anyone hoping to have the experience as a spectator I’d advise skipping the jury selection. Two of those were murders cases, one lasted six weeks. I’ve watched the complete line of legal procedures from arrest to sentence. Over all the system seems fair but there’s plenty of room for debate.

I’ve met congressmen, assemblymen, the state’s supreme court judges. Some of them have even shared a dirty joke or two.

Being a reporter you have a tendency to get a piece of everyone’s story but rarely are you able to focus on any one part in enough depth. Everyone has a perspective and a tale to tell but our job is to relay how it all comes together.

Taking all these experiences, some bad, some good, a few wretched and a few glorious, I’ve never thought much beyond keeping life honest and interesting. It’s my hope that one day people will use those two words to describe me.

Maybe I’m getting old because it seems more and more life is a weighted experience full of complications. Money, love, work and the future of all three. There is no calculation that can predict any one of those variables and when you’re combining all three I’d dare say our life styles are more closely related to the work of an artist than that of an engineer.

At least that’s how I try to look at things. I remember there was this plan- we all have (had) one- but it never goes accordingly. That’s life. If life depended on the precise math needed to construct a bridge it would never be built. It’s a canvas, your the artist and the colors will be randomly chosen day to day. Over all you have an idea of the what perception you’d like to express in the masterpiece but in the end it’s a labor of adaptation as much as expectation.

That’s always been the beauty in it for me.

Every time I find myself dragged down by unforeseen consequences or handed a short cut through no fault of my own I just think of the canvas and how much there is left to paint. Who knows how long any of us have anyway?

There is no destination to these thoughts, they just keep moving forward. I’ve never come to any sound conclusion to solve all my problems though I’ve stumbled upon my fair share of ways to make them worse.

That’s what I’ve been thinking about lately, to find a better way ahead. Seems my girlfriend and best friend are finding themselves in the same boat.

What about you? Where have you been and where are you headed?

Do you know where I can find some drugs?

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010
Tyler Murphy

Impatient and worried that perhaps my down stairs door may be locked I decided to wait outside in the fresh and cooling 7 p.m. air along Fair Street yesterday.

My street is obnoxiously busy for my local country boy tastes but I’ve adjusted to the awkward glances and the constant presence of some pretty weird people who seem to wonder aimlessly around the City of Norwich daily.

I took about five steps from my front porch to glance down toward the east end of Fair St. hoping to see my pedestrian brother carrying our to-go ordered dinner. He wasn’t there but not too far away a group of three young people (mid-late twenties, about my age) came over to me. A woman and two men.

Coming closer they never projected any kind of oral greeting they just stared and approached nervously.

It was a little startling- three unsavory looking strangers locking eyes and moving to engage you suddenly.

I couldn’t help but tilt my hips and shoulders to face a potential threat, yet still I offered a “How you’doin,” in a half-hearted, neighborly tone.

Right away I could smell one of the men’s words before I even heard them. They must have been drinking and they slurred slightly. They said hi and introduced their first names. There was this pause and I was a little confused as to what they might want next. The guy who originally stepped toward me with the others just sort of following along kept pivoting on his heels as he spoke like we were on the high seas.

(Keep in mind I’ve never spoken to this man before.)

“Hey man, do you know were we can get some good weed, it’s hard to get good weed around here. You need drugs in a small town like this, it so boring,” he said with a nervous laugh.

I laughed too.

Lacking any good drug tips I replied with a stunned shoulder shrug and a silent cold look. The trio paused for a moment as if they suddenly realized asking random people for drugs may be a mistake.

I was now staring at the three with an amused look and half crooked smile. Then they departed my company nearly as fast as they joined it.
It was so random that I neglected to call the Norwich PD but next time I will.

As much comic relief as this encounter gave us later in the night I really do hate people like this being any where near my neighborhood.
I’d encourage others to contact the PD at 334-1212, in light of my mistake.

Just thought I’d share the experience.

A curse and a blessing

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010
Tyler Murphy

A blog, a column, a feature. The editorial paths that allow a writer an opportunity to express a personal view. These incredible avenues of reaching the public can be quite intimidating. Not only that but in a dedicated readership such as ours the opinions offered can often draw acclaim and complaint from people you’ll see routinely in the community. These challenges are the same when writing and publishing any work but an editorial has but one voice and one person responsible for its stated content, the writer.

At first I used to be fixated on the idea of routinely writing any creative piece but over time the anxiety of scrutiny and the vulnerability felt after sharing an intimate or controversial point of view has a way of corroding inspirations.

After first being hired there was this honest but somewhat ignorant obviousness to things political or unpopular. It was an advantage but as one gains experiences, acquaintances and even friends in the local workings of government, law enforcement and the community you find it harder to conclude your own personal perspective.

Being the court reporter for the last few years I’ve also dedicated myself to looking for the silver lining and the Achilles’ heel in every argument and training myself to keep my own thoughts apart from my professional work. Columns and blogs often feel like a personal script most of us would jot down in a diary or social networking site.

I’m proud to say that there is rarely any topic, local or global, where I can’t find two intelligent people in my life that share completely differing views. I enjoy a good round of reasonable debate with someone attempting to convert me over to their set of ideals.

Walking this three year-plus line at the newspaper between topics and opinions has at times made me skeptical of beliefs I was once so sure of. Sometimes I feel like I’m carrying out a never ending diagnostic of my personal thoughts to ensure they meet the ever changing logic gained through my day to day learning experiences.

Here’s an good example involving the economy. Personally I think public sector employees’ current contracts and expectations exceed the means of our fiscal reality. Those of us working in the private sector have come to realize that profitability is the end all be all in sustaining salary and benefits. If you don’t make any money you don’t get any money.

The public sector isn’t the same animal as a private business because they are created to generate a service and not necessarily to make a profit. I understand this. The thing is blue collar private sector employees are tossed scraps when comparing their contracted medical benefits and annual salary raises to public unionized employees.

I think public sector unions and administrators have basically had it too good for too long and now they are caught in a strange sort of cultural shock because their earnings have to be corrected after years of over spending. Ordinarily I wouldn’t really care but it’s my and your money we’re spending here.

A lot of people work hard and I don’t think you can say public sector employees work harder or are more important than the rest of us. Certain state teamster stereo types actually embody the opposite. So why shouldn’t their means be approximately the same as their private sector counterparts?

Providing a public service doesn’t give you the right to have a blank check. When the encumbering costs of maintaining those systems begins to hurt the public’s interest then it’s time to cut some people loose and maybe take a second look at revamping the whole retirement system.

I’m going to go home now and feel the wraith of my state employed parents, my father especially because he was a former CSEA local union president. I’m sure he’ll be quick to point out I grew up on their state paychecks.

At the same time anyone of my struggling private sector friends who aren’t in a union, most receiving less medical benefits and retirement packages, (raising my hand) will sing my praise. Of course some of these same friends would kill to have these jobs I’m being critical of.

Such is life.

Strange occupational moments

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010
Tyler Murphy

So at around 10 a.m. yesterday I stood outside the Broad Street Tavern. The weather was nice and all of downtown including the sidewalk was draped in the bright morning sun. The bar was closed and I paced slowly back and forth looking for traces of blood left over from this weekend’s knife assault that sent six people to the hospital. A local news station had broadcast a dried pool of blood and crushed cigarette butts a day earlier and I was here to see if any photographic potential still remained.

I nudged piles of dried blood and debris here and there smearing small tracks of dark paste along the pavement but there was nothing worth a picture. Feeling slightly disappointed I was away for the weekend and missed a significant news event in my backyard I realized how strange an occupational moment I was having. Although in the past wiping a stabbing victim’s day old blood off my dress shoes might have given me pause it’s only one of a number of things I’d say where a first for me since I took this job.

A small town reporting position that has seen a lot of big time crimes in the last three years, relatively speaking of course. There are certainly areas where these kinds of things happen every day but this isn’t one of them.

Later that day I’d find myself with an older man and his two sons, both in their mid twenties, as they helped to push my car onto the snow covered roadway. I was dispatched to Hunt’s Pond in New Berlin to take a handful of pictures for some upcoming stories since the governor announced the park was on the state’s chopping block a few days ago.

If you’ve never been to Hunt’s Pond it’s a beautiful place and a bit treacherous in the winter months as I found out. The roads into the park are scarcely plowed and the only path cut through the drifts yesterday was a dozen or so tire tracks from ice fisherman and their pick-ups. I pulled a little too far off the narrow roadway and had a tough time getting back on. Luckily the good hearted outdoorsmen lent a hand.

But before all that I clumsily walked a few of the game trails in my suit and tie snapping iconic state park pictures of landscapes, benches, signs, pavilions, and of course the frozen pond. The entire place was coated in a shell of thin ice, even the pine needles. Clumps of sound absorbing snow were nestled in almost every tree top and at points nothing man made could be seen in any open direction. I could hear the distant remarks of men out on the ice, less than a dozen several hundred yards away. Their words were softly spoken but there was no other sound to be heard. I tormented myself with the idea of quitting my job and going ice fishing, it seems so long since I had visited such a desolate and peaceful piece of country. Compared to this morning’s search for signs of violence along Broad St. this was the complete opposite side of another strange occupational moment.

Last week I sat through a two day jury trial of a man accused of felony driving while intoxicated. Although the case itself is not so glamorous when compared to some of the other crimes working their way through the court system it was an incredibly well prosecuted and defended case. District Attorney Joseph McBride squared off against a private defense lawyer Jeffrey Leibo of Syracuse. (Mr. DWI Guy’s firm).

Articulate debate and clever turns of phrase were parried at just about every aspect of the trial. Both closing arguments before the jury were among some of the best I’ve heard and I felt myself convinced immediately following each argument that their side must be the just one. I’m glad in this case to have been a spectator and not a juror. Watching a well executed trial in local court, especially one of the more mundane, can truly inspire a faith in the system. The man was found not guilty of felony DWI but guilty of DWAI, a misdemeanor. Kind of a win for the defense but not a loss for the prosecution. The middle road verdict reflected the equal talent of both attorneys and their presented cases.

Today I have no idea what to expect. I’ve identified three of the four stabbing victims. Maybe I’ll give one a call or perhaps the bar’s owner and just see what they say. There’s a teen pregnancy story in the works and a review of the Norwich City Police Department’s activities in 2009, not to mention a climbing number of interesting court cases. Each topic is filled with just as many chances for unusual occupational moments as yesterday.

You never know what to expect these days.

The cost of compounding error

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010
Tyler Murphy

Recently I did one of those things I occasionally do when I’m juggling my finances by using electronic methods of payment with varying degrees of withdrawal times and penalties – I overdrew my checking account.

Although I technically over drew it once, chronologically the institution I’ve been a member of since I was in high school has this strange habit of processing transactions in priority of size instead of time.

Let me explain it this way: Say you have $50 in your account and late on Friday you purchase three items for a dollar a piece, then on Sunday you forget and buy an item for $50 with only $47 left in your account.

So you figure the bank will hit you with a single $35 fee (the going rate for overages at my bank). In reality, the bank will process the most expensive transaction first, taking out the $50 transaction then the following three one dollar charges, allowing them to hit you for $105 worth of overage fees instead of a single $35 fee for only over drawing your account by a mere three bucks.

I admit the original failure of miscalculating that 300 cents, but the compounding cost of error is a 3,500 percent mark-up of my mistake. Sounds like corporate highway robbery to me.

The next thing I learned is you can’t close an open account with the bank until the debt is paid. The second piece of information you should know is that after five days of having an account in the negative, the banks starts running the juice (slang for loan sharks in gambling) at five dollars a day, every day, forever, until a court steps in to halt the accumulating bill.

That means if some poor guy out there has some crisis and can’t pay his overages in five days the bank will keep piling up the $5 fees indefinitely until it’s paid in full. I didn’t ask but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that each $5 fee tacked into the account also counts as an overage and they assigned another $35 to the over due bill. (There’s probably some excited banker somewhere who just went, “Hey can we do that?”)

I’ve never been rich, but I do tend to keep a close eye on my money, The less you have, the more it’s worth to you. If you’re making $350 bucks a week, a $35 overcharge is 10 percent of your entire paycheck. Three is a third of it.

It used to seem easier, but more and more I find myself using the plastic cards for more convenient and timely bill paying; most utilities prefer electronic deductions.

I’m told that debit transactions are immediate and credit card transactions are a roll of the dice – could come out sooner or later. Either way, there’s no guarantee from the bank that your account will actually represent its real total up to two days after a purchase. (News to me).

OK, so I submit I’m handling too many variables in the world of finance to consistently get things straight it seems, so I ask about a possible guard, or something that could automatically halt me from taking out money I don’t have.

First thing to know is that no matter how much or how many times you’ve overcharged your account, the bank’s ATM will keep letting you take out money. So say my account reflects a number (not my actual cash in the account, remember the two-day delay?) I could keep buying and charging my way into debt and not even know it.

Again, fine I should know better. It’s my money I’m spending; I should know how much I have. It’s just these tools I’m being offered seem more likely to confuse me than anything else. I’m really just better off keeping a paper tally of what I buy. Of course now I’m starting to wonder what I need a bank for.

So back to what I wanted – a fail safe measure to prevent me from over charging. I discover there is indeed a program in place to help avoid such a thing, but there’s a catch-22, you need to pass a credit check. I don’t, which surprises me considering I didn’t think my credit was all that bad. To be clear, those people who are economically struggling and of lower credit to begin with, the people who could benefit the most from a guard, aren’t eligible because they by definition lack credit. I’m betting that group of people also happens to generate most of the bank overage fees, too.

I’m obviously lacking the skills needed to be a banker, but I can still tell you what the sum of all these parts add up to and it’s not the customer’s interest, it’s the bank’s. The smaller of a role you have in it, that is the less money you have, the more difficult it becomes for you to be a member.

Let’s not forget that all this seems reasonable until you stand up from the table and find yourself paying the bank $105 because of three dollars. No matter what you find in between, my errors included, that’s math I do not understand.