Phil Luciano: Messages hold ugly confessions

Phil Luciano

Some days, I hate my job.

Everyone feels that way, at least once in a while. Any occupation can wear you down.

But column-writing has a peculiar downside. It allows me to see and hear things most other people never get exposed to.

And sometimes it's downright ugly.

Mind you, I don't mind when readers get merely rude and obnoxious. I hope they feel the same about me.

Rather, sometimes readers bare their souls to me. And it can scare the heck out of me.

Most times, these messages come via my answering machine. The following one arrived not in relation to any previous column, just as a brainstorm regarding our criminal-justice system:

"Hey, Luciano, I got a great solution to the crime problem. Rather than have prayer vigils - you know, you can pray until the sun goes out and that won't solve the problem - I think we should bring back public humiliation.

The caller suggests that we put the criminals "in the town square in shackles. People could walk by and spit loogies and throw a cup of (urine) on them. I guarantee the next (offender) who wants to rob an old person will think twice. Have a good day."

Have a good day? Are you kidding? With maniacs like this roaming the streets?

I understand frustration with crime and other social ills. But the caller wasn't kidding. Further, his anger was mixed with an underlying sense of glee, as if he were pleased with himself for such a brilliant idea.

Next, I got a message regarding a piece I wrote about the 1908 race riots in Springfield:

"Do you think pampering the blacks will make our lives better? I'm a 57-year-old white male from the South, I mean the Deep South. I've crisscrossed this country as a truck driver. The blacks, I have known 'em all my life. They take what they want, get what they want, they complain about what they can't get, it makes front-page news."

The caller goes on to suggest that "they should've stayed as slaves."

Oh. My. Stars.

I've heard a lot of racist garbage over the years. But I don't think I'd ever heard anyone suggest a return to slavery.

Look, I realize that there are lot of bitter, hateful people out there. That's life.

But usually they contain their venom to their own social circles. You don't much hear that sort of thing in public.

Yet that's the insight one gets while writing columns. I don't know why readers feel comfortable sharing their ideas with me. Do they think I'd write a piece actually advocating stockades and slavery?

Two comments alone are no big deal. But that sort of tone - wretched viciousness - seems to have become more and more prevalent on my phone machine. I'm not sure why that is. To be sure, society has become more course. But boorishness is one thing; despicableness is another.

I don't recall callers being so contemptible years ago. They're either getting bolder or meaner - or both.

It makes me ponder how many folks out there harbor such thoughts. I like to think this is a slim minority - that most people aren't so wicked.

But I get calls like that, and I just can't help wonder, as I walk around Peoria, I almost shudder to think what lurks behind each face, inside each heart.

Phil Luciano can be reached atpluciano@pjstar.com or (309) 686-3155.