It’s funny how some news just doesn’t penetrate even a well-informed person’s orbit. Lately a neighbor feud in a downriver suburb has gone national, and, well. It’s really a perfect story in that it features a psycho, a dead mother, a dying little girl and the word “outpouring.” Stories like this always have to feature an outpouring, usually of “support,” frequently “love” and lots of cash.
Short version: Some time ago, a dispute broke out between the Petkov and Edward families, who live across Detroit Street from one another in Trenton. It appears to be over a child’s birthday party invitation that may or may not have been extended to one of the Petkov children, although a text message was involved, so I can’t really speak authoritatively about the nature of the insult. In my circle, text messages are not used for party invitations. Anyway, the Petkov clan began to nurture a grievance against the Edwards, and sometime in recent days social networking got involved.
One reason the Edward family may not have been as attentive as they could have been to their guest list is that the mother of the family, Laura, was dying of Huntington’s disease, and their daughter, Kathleen, also has the disease, the rarer, fast-moving juvenile variety. Laura died last year, at 24; Kathleen is 7. But they all still hate one another. So somehow the Petkov matriarch, name of Jennifer, thought the proper way to respond to all of this was to doctor a photo of Laura Edward to show her lying in the arms of a Grim Reaper-type skeleton, and to take one of Kathleen and make her face the skull in a skull-and-crossbones photo, and post all of this on her Facebook page. Which is when it became a story.
But it wasn’t just a story, it was a TV story, and not just a TV story but a Fox TV story, and not even the regular 10 p.m. Fox newscast, but the extra one they do at 11 p.m., which is called “the Edge” and is where they stick all the stories for people who find the 10 p.m. version too intellectually challenging. Here’s the story. It’s a hum-damn-dinger. Jennifer Petkov appears to be auditioning for a part on “Real Housewives of Downriver.” As entertainment for the mouth-breathing masses, it’s hard to beat.
But the reaction is where it gets interesting.
First, the Petkovs were targeted by 4chan, which I once saw described as “the scariest hive mind on the internet.” Their address was posted, their employers’ addresses and phone numbers, the whole works. A whole henhouse full of eggs has rained down on their house, enough unordered pizzas to feed 10 football teams. Jennifer’s husband lost his job. It really and truly sucks to be them.
As for Kathleen, inevitably described as “little Kathleen,” well, she won the lottery. This is where the outpouring comes in. A respectable five-figure sum was donated to her family. Other Huntington’s-affected families have gathered around her. And yesterday, she was driven in a stretch limousine to a toy store in Ann Arbor, where she was commanded to shop until she dropped, and she did, spending two grand of the outpouring, with the rest being donated to the children’s hospital at the University of Michigan.
Which I guess is supposed to sound like a happy ending, but all it makes me think is, we live in one fucked-up culture, folks. Never mind the lunatic Petkovs and their Facebook. Why does little Kathleen even know about this? What kind of parent allows their sick child to be photographed for television? Why does she even know about the insult? And while it’s admirable that 90 percent of the outpouring is going to charity, why is our response to every high-profile misfortune or offense to shower the offended with cash and prizes? This has bugged me ever since the Make-a-Wish Foundation came on the radar screen, which sounds like a good idea on paper, and I guess it is, but doesn’t anyone ever see the essential horror in telling a kid, “Hey, Bobby, because you have a fatal disease, you know what? YOU’RE GOING TO DISNEYLAND!”
(I once wrote some columns about a kid who was supposed to die of a fatal liver disorder. She went to Universal Studios, got to watch her favorite show taping, got to meet and have her picture taken with all the stars. Then she went home and didn’t die. Not only that, she was cured, more or less — a pharmaceutical company developed a synthetic enzyme that eliminated her symptoms and returned her to good health. Downside: The drug had an annual cost of $300,000 a year. The last column I wrote, her parents were miserable, because they believed she’d never be able to get medical insurance. They were probably right. But you know what that column got them? An outpouring. Not a big one, but it might have made their lives easier. I lost track of them after that. My guess is, the drug no longer costs $300,000, but who knows if the little girl, all grown up, has health insurance. She probably votes Republican.)
It has been a long, exhausting week. I have no bloggage, but I have a full day ahead of me to do whatever I want. I think I’ll start with a shower and see what develops. Have a good weekend, all.