Freelining with Mike Freeman: The reason for the season

ORLANDO – It’s a bit hard to judge, around this time of year, exactly what you’re going to get from your local cashier.

Or from your fellow shoppers.

The Mall of Millennia goes all out this time of year.

A perfect example: last night, I hit one of the local big box stores to do a little bit of shopping, hopeful that 4 o’clock in the afternoon was early enough that I’d miss the worst of the shopping rush, which I had expected to begin well after the 5 p.m. end of the day office closing time.

I was wrong.

The crowds had beat me to it – whether it was in the parking lot, where I could easily have simply parked at my house and had the same walk to the store’s entrance, or in the isles, where being thin became a useless commodity. People act strange when they do their shopping around this time. For one thing, planting your shopping cart in the middle of the isle and not moving aside to show a bit of consideration for others – a definite no-no on most days – appears to be acceptable when you’re standing in front of an array of products and can’t quite figure out which one to buy as a holiday gift.

It’s sad but true: shopping etiquette gets awfully messy during the holidays. Maybe it’s that frantic rush to get in, buy a lot, then leave that engulfs people. I rarely noticed what I felt was a “happy” shopper. Nobody had a smile on their face, nobody seemed to be taking their time to savor the joy of finding that perfect gift. Mostly, there was a kind of dog-eat-dog determination. I kept looking over my shoulder nervously as I walked from one isle to the next.

When I had all my goods, I headed to the first check out lane I saw – there was one person being scanned through and a second one waiting behind her, which wasn’t bad. So I headed there – only to have another man swiftly cut in front of me.

I stopped short, and looked at him, a bit surprised at how brazen he was – but he barely acknowledged me. Plus, since he was bigger than me, I decided to let it pass.

Then I noticed a check out lane two isles over, which was – surprisingly – empty. There were about five lanes open, and each one had a line, except for this one. So I walked over there and put my stuff on the counter, and was done in less than a minute.  The cashier scanning my good was in a great mood. Not all cashiers are — I know stores like they employees to be happy ambassadors for the store, but have you noticed how many of them scream out I hate my job! through their sour expression and equally dour tone? Not this one, though. He seemed positively upbeat as he engaged me in the kind of small talk — “Have you finished your Christmas shopping?” “How are you doing today?” — that I actaully enjoy. No Bah! Humbug from me this time, or my cashier.

As I grabbed my bag and receipt, I glanced over at the man who had cut me off.  He was still waiting in that same line he’d shoved me aside for, and it wasn’t moving all that quickly, because the two people in front of him had a lot to buy.  And did he see me?  Oh yes he did, for a brief second. Then he quickly turned away, as if the irony of our situation – I was about to walk out the door, he was waiting impatiently – hadn’t grasped him.

Poetic justice indeed.

And did I flash a big happy grin as I caught his eye?

What do you think?

If shopping doesn’t always lend itself to the spirit of the season, it can be a lot more fun to hit the mall just to see what the owners have done in terms of holiday decorating. This year, I think the Mall of Millennia went all out, setting up sky high trees, beautifully decorated, that make it hard not to feel swept up into the mood of Christmas.

Some mall decorations are great fun to check out.

And for once, it’s fun to see massive crowds milling past you, because you’re not competing against them in the check out lines, you’re marveling at how these decorations bring people out and about, like a big family. Suddenly there’s so much life in the malls. It’s all hustle and bustle around you.

There are plenty of things to be worried about when you hit the shopping centers these days – will thieves target you at night when you walk back to your car in a spacious, dimly lit parking lot? Will you forget how much you’re spending and then get sticker shock when you open your credit card bill in January?  Will your gifts bomb and will the recipients give you that Wow what in the world was he thinking look once the wrapping paper comes off? And how do you look pleased when you open your own gift and think, This is the worst thing I’ve gotten since last Christmas, as you look up and say, “This is wonderful!”

The holidays don’t get any easier.

But at least those mall decorations make me feel like a kid again, as I glance up at the tree and think, I wish it was Christmas every day.

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Remember worrying about your a.c. breaking down in the summer? The cold brings a new concern.

POINCIANA – It’s not uncommon for power companies to issue press notices during the summer months, offering advice to homeowners on ways to save money – shutting off lights, raising the thermostat a few degrees, installing more energy-efficient light bulbs.

That’s not much of a surprise. In steamy hot Florida, power usage is at a maximum when the heat and humidity set in, and all those air conditioners running full volume puts a strain on energy suppliers.

But anyone who cringes when they get their electric bill in the summer months may have forgotten that Central Florida, for all those 90-degree days we suffer through in the summer, can still experience some suprisingly frigid temperatures during the winter. The fact that the cold weather set in earlier than usual this year, arriving by early December, may have caught some people off guard.

This owl-like thermostat shows a recent daytime high at 49 degrees -- surprisingly nippy for Orlando, even in December.

But it did prompt one local utility to issue a very un-Florida-like news release, urging people to take steps to protect their water pipes from … freezing.

In Florida?

Created in October 2003 by a special act of the Florida Legislature, Toho Water Authority is the largest provider of water, wastewater, and reclaimed water services in Osceola County, serving 80,000 water, 74,000 wastewater, and 10,000 reclaimed water customers in Kissimmee, Poinciana, and unincorporated areas of Osceola County.

Their advice to folks who think the cold means space heaters at night and extra blankets on the bed: don’t forget about the risks that freezing temperatures pose to your water pipes.

The news release was first sent out on Sunday, Dec. 12, in anticipation of temperatures falling into the high 20s overnight — although the advice could just as well apply to another cold spell headed into the region this weekend and into next week, bringing unseasonable nippy highs in the low 50s and overnight temperatures back into the 30s – at best. So much for Christmas in a t-shirt on the golf course.

“When temperatures drop below 30 degrees, water in exposed pipes, service lines, and backflow preventers may freeze,” Toho noted in its release. “The Authority recommends that all residential and commercial customers follow the steps below to minimize the inconvenience of frozen water pipes.”

As any resident of New England, the Midwest or the Mid-Atlantic who relocated to Florida knows, the advice sounds awfully familiar. In includes:

  • Wrapping exposed exterior pipes with old towels or plastic foam for insulation.

“Hardware or building supply stores will have pipe wrapping material available as well,” the authority notes.

Area residents often take care to cover their plants and trees during cold spells -- but may forget about the hose they left outside to water them with.

* Removing, draining, and storing hoses used outdoors.  

“When the weather is very cold outside, running water through pipes that are vulnerable to freezing – even at a trickle – helps prevent pipes from freezing,” the release points out. “Ice might still form in the pipes, but an open faucet allows water to escape before the pressure builds to where a pipe can burst.”

  • Finally, making sure that everyone in your household knows where the main water shut-off value is located, just in case you wake up to find one of your pipes has burst.

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From Polk County to Colorado, an arrest for obscenity

BARTOW – It’s not common for sheriff’s deputies in Polk County, Florida to arrest someone in Pueblo, Colorado. But that’s exactly what the Polk County Sheriff’s Office did when Phillip R. Greaves, 47, was booked into the Polk County Jail around 11 a.m.  today.

He was charged with Distribution of Obscene Material Depicting Minors Engaged in Conduct Harmful to Minors, a third degree felony under Florida Statute 847.011(1)(C).

His offense was selling a copy of his book, “The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure; A Child-lover’s Code of Conduct” to an undercover Polk County deputy.

Why target someone living halfway across the country?

Does the U.S. Constitution protect offensive speech and written materials?

Undercover detectives from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office had contacted Greaves and asked to buy his book, following a flurry of national media reports about it.  Online retail giant had dropped the self-published e-book from its Kindle store in November, after public outrage that it got listed there to begin with. It had gone on sale Oct. 28 and cost $4.79 to download.

According to a news release by the sheriff’s office, “Greaves mailed what he referred to as his own personal copy of his book, signed, after being paid $50, to an address in Lakeland, Fla., within the jurisdiction of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.  Detectives and attorneys reviewed the book, presented the material to Polk County Judge J. Michael McCarthy, who found probable cause that Greaves distributed obscene material depicting minors engaged in activities harmful to minors.”

McCarthy issued a Polk County warrant for Greaves’ arrest, with a bond of $15,000 pending his first appearance in the Florida 10th Judicial Circuit jurisdiction.  Detectives flew to Pueblo and worked with the Pueblo Police Department to bring Greaves into custody.

Scott H. Wilder, director of communications for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, said the book is “all written material” and does not contain sexually explicit photographs of minors. So how can the book not be protected under constitutionally protected free speech rights?

“You might be conflating with two different legal theories,” Wilder said. “One theory is child pornography, and there is a clear ruling for the state by the (U.S.) Supreme Court that child pornography has to be images. We are not charging him under child pornography statutes. This is obscenity, and it is a third degree felony, not a first degree felony as child pornography would be.”

The sheriff’s office cited two “graphic stories” in the book that depict an adult engaged in sexual acts with children, and which describe “adult genital contact and oral penetration with a 9-year-old boy and with a 13-year-old boy.”

The book also “defends, advocates, and trains adults regarding illegal sex acts between adults and children,” the sheriff’s office wrote in its official press statement following the arrest.

The sheriff’s office also quoted passages in the book, such as “Pedophiles, we must remember, care for and befriend their young lovers.  They are concerned for the wellbeing and pleasure of their little friends, always putting the juvenile’s pleasure and happiness first.”  According to the sheriff’s office, the context here is that “Greaves attempts to differentiate between pedophiles who ‘care for’ children and pedophiles who ‘rape’ children.”

Material like this, Wilder said, violates Florida’s obscenity law because it encourages dangerous sexual behavior against children.

“This is clearly written in Florida statutes that we can make an arrest on this,” he said. “The best kind of argument is local standards — what may be considered obscene in Polk County may not be obscene in New York City. Certainly in our opinion it’s not a free speech right. There are not unlimited free speech rights. You can’t yell fire in a crowded theater.”

Wilder said the book could be viewed as encouraging obscene, harmful contact with children.

“Woven throughout these stories are hints for predators on how they should teat the child, and those sorts of things,” Wilder said. “It’s a clear kind of guidebook for pedophiles and it kind of gives them grooming, on how to groom a child and stay on a first name basis. The book, taken as a whole, specifically is covered by Florida statutes. It specifically addresses that this is obscene material that depicts a minor engaged in any act or conduct that is harmful to minors. Remember, something can be obscene even when we’re not talking about the definition of pornography.”

Florida Statute 847.011: Prohibition of certain acts in connection with obscene, lewd, etc., materials; penalty, states that any person who sells or distributes materials “that depict a minor engaged in any act or conduct that is harmful to minors commits a felony of the third degree … A person’s ignorance of a minor’s age, a minor’s misrepresentation of his or her age, a bona fide belief of a minor’s age, or a minor’s consent may not be raised as a defense in a prosecution for one or more violations ….”

While the Polk County Sheriff’s Office was targeting Greaves, the Lake County Sheriff’s Office’s Cyber Crimes detectives completed a three day long undercover operation on Dec. 15 that resulted in three very different kinds of arrests.

During the operation, the three suspects contacted undercover detectives both online and by telephone. According to Lake County deputies, the men thought they were communicating with the parent/guardian of a teenage child between 13 and 14 years old, and made arrangements to meet with the parents so they could perform a sex act on the child.

As the men – later identified as James Poland, 61, Travis Morton, 24, and Steven Austin, 33 – got to the pre-arranged meeting locations, they were taken into custody without incident. 

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