Scranton Lives Matter! Ch. 1

Retired Scranton High School chemistry teacher Casey Weatherhogg rooted for the revolution.

Burn it down, start all over again.

But the revolution never arrived.

Filling out his mail-in ballot on Election Day, Casey hoped for the best, voting for Scranton native son Joe Biden. Actually, he voted for Kamala Harris, a strong West Coast woman of color who could take over if Biden got shakier. Casey never forgave Biden for lying about having an uncle who worked in the Scranton coal mines and later laughing about his scam on a late night television show, mocking local yokel coal crackers who bought his story hook, line and anthracite. Casey still wanted an apology. But what could he do? Refuse to vote knowing Donald Trump might win re-election and take us all with him on the road to the apocalypse? No, Casey sucked it up and went with the man Barack Obama called the scrappy kid from Scranton. Maybe one day Casey could get even.

COVID changed everything. Life didn’t go as planned. The world shifted even without the benefit of mind-altering drugs. Such cultural chaos was no malarkey.

At 75, Casey Weatherhogg weighed 172 pounds and stood 6-foot-4 in his Birkenstocks. Thin, frizzed gray hair fell below his shoulders. Tufts stiff as last year’s robin’s nest protruded from both sides of his head. Wearing nothing but a thin leather headband adorned with a silver peace sign, faded blue jeans and vintage T-shirts with classic rock band names emblazoned across the front, Casey threw on a stained fringed suede jacket whenever he went out. Since March he added a tie-dyed surgical mask he bought online from a vegan music commune in Maine.

Shoppers snickered at Gerrity’s Supermarket where Casey bought tofu. Smart-ass kids called him names like Space Dick. Casey danced his way through the aisles to the psychedelic music that always played in his head.

Other than his 95-year-old mother, Mabel, no other Weatherhoggs of ancient Anglo-Scottish breeding lived in Scranton. Mrs. Weatherhogg seemed to fit quite nicely into the established social order, though, being a proud Marywood College graduate and retired city librarian and all. Local business and political leaders viewed her eccentric yet obviously brilliant boy as just a cultural aberration. For the most part the Weatherhoggs minded their own business. People in town mostly ignored them.

Until the COVID hit, Casey took Mabel out to get her hair blue-rinsed each week and stopped at Cooper’s Seafood House for fried flounder and a bowl, not a cup, of clam chowder. Mom liked red; Casey liked white. Since the coronavirus, though, they became cloistered, isolated, housebound recluses who dug deeper and deeper into themselves, exploring internal grievances and trying to comprehend the meaning of life. Unmarried with no heirs, Casey stood alone, just the way he liked it. Mabel fussed over her baby like always.

Named after the downtown Hotel Casey where his parents conceived him after their wedding reception and overnight honeymoon, Casey longed for yesterday. Stories of shining streetcars, men in fedoras and ladies in dresses and white gloves seemed glorious. His own favorite memory of watching Bonanza in blazing color on 1959 television collapsed under the weight of an onslaught of so-called progress. Nowadays Casey felt doomed with the new spliced generations X, Y and Z, aimless cubs foraging through clear-cut forests of technology, a glut of menacing social media and teenage angst poisoned with attention deficit drugs, college loans, chronic unemployment, zero goals, low aspirations, foodie pretention, and TikToc obsession. Some of the current breed never heard of the Beatles. The Hotel Casey existed only in crusty photographs and memories cherished by an aging cadre of senior citizens. A snotty well-used Hilton stands in its place.

Casey’s long ago decade of California dreaming had provided unparalleled adventure. Yet all that remained of that radical trip was strategy, a simple yet ominous plan to take down whatever little piece of the establishment, what Casey called “The Power,” he could level. Casey plotted the best way to take out “The Man” and make a spiritual impact in the process. Right on, right on, right on.

Ecological injustice continued to run amok throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania. A stinking, sprawling, garbage-juice-spewing monster landfill loomed large in Dunmore, Scranton’s backyard. Elite political hacks like U.S. Sen. Robert Casey Jr. (who lived down the street from Casey) and Rep. Matt Cartwright only paid lip service to liberating the people from the pollution and economic slavery practiced by evil environmental masters.

Casey needed revenge.

Both the senator and the congressman stopped responding to his heartfelt landfill emails. Nobody from their offices returned his respectful phone calls. Ignoring his concerns, they marginalized his civic duty. They mocked his sincere activist existence. Neither of these officials would have pulled that shit back in 1968 when Casey went by the nickname “Molotov.”

Nobody knew his past, of course, not even Mabel. This once bold and now washed-up radical often thought about the free-wheeling subversive existence he relished when he majored in organic chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, and blew up freeway rest stops along U.S. Route 101 in his spare time. Every Highway Patrol officer from Stinson Beach to Santa Barbara was on the lookout for Molotov, who truly expected to get caught. Casey still had an FBI wanted poster featuring his grinning mug that he stole from a post office in Santa Maria. But nobody tracked him down. Decades later, this former Weather Underground soldier who once helped Patty Hearst hide out in the Poconos, this veteran freedom-fighting bomb thrower, this hometown guerrilla, just chilled at home with his mother in Scranton, a couple of golden agers waiting for the end.

Both wanted to go down fighting. You wouldn’t know Mabel was capable of anything. Casey, too, craved one last mission to defend against “The Power” that would send him into the great beyond of clear consciousness where he became one with the universe.

The only question was exactly how much LSD to dump into the Lake Scranton drinking water supply. A little 21st Century-style acid indigestion ought to throw open a few doors of perception.

Like Casey always said, you don’t need a Weatherhogg to know which way the wind blows.