It sounds Old Testament and maybe it is, in a way. My grandmother, Lora Lowe, used to tell me a story about traveling as a kid in a wagon.
They had a dog that was a part-chow. They were staying in a tent somewhere on the plains of Texas when a rattlesnake entered the tent with my grandmother and her sisters. As the rattlesnake attacked, so did the chow, killing the snake. The hero chow, however, was bitten, dying to save the children. My grandmother could still tear up thinking about it when she would tell the story. She was also rarely without a dog.
I don’t know if the story of the snake or some other of her childhood horrors led her to it, but my grandmother used to sit in her office on Hemphill Street, listen to a story of something evil happening in the world or, heck, just outside the door on Hemphill, and say, “There’s meanness out in this world.” Rose-colored glasses were not my grandmother’s way. It could be difficult to take at times as friends and family alike could be lacerated with her sharp, and often accurate, tongue.
My grandmother and grandfather ran a trailer shop and junkyard in the 3700 block of Hemphill Street and one didn’t have to look far to see “meanness out in this world.” I threw newspapers in the mornings and afternoons on that block and it wasn’t rare to see someone laid out on a sidewalk or sleeping in the doorway of a closed business.
One of my biggest terrors as a kid happened when I was throwing papers early one dark Sunday morning on my bicycle. As I rolled into a gas station to deliver the paper at the door – good service and all that –there was a sudden, shadowy movement and a man screaming, “My leg, my leg!” The man, sleeping in the doorway of the gas station, had his one leg in the path of my bike. Somehow I raised up my bike and jumped over the man’s one leg. All while I was carrying a bag full of newspapers that probably weighed 20 pounds. I was flying like those kids on bikes in E.T., landing on the other side of his one good leg. Then this man stood up, a crutch holding up one side of his body, and unleashed a flurry of curse words, something else that was plentiful on Hemphill. I yelled back a quick, “sorry,” as my heart beat rapidly. The shadowy, one-legged figure ambled off to find a safer place to sleep off his drunk. And haunt my dreams to this day.
As I grew to be a teenager and began to expand my horizons beyond the precarious world of Hemphill, my grandmother would often stop me before I went out and say, “Be careful. There’s meanness out in this world.”
I thought of those words this week as so many, myself included, struggled to understand the actions of 64-year-old Stephen Paddock in Las Vegas on Sunday, Oct. 1.
Paddock had 1,600 rounds of ammunition and several containers of an explosive commonly used in target shooting that totaled 50 pounds in his car. It wasn’t clear what, if anything, Paddock planned to do with the explosives.
Paddock, who set up surveillance cameras in his room to see anyone approaching outside, also had an escape plan, though he fatally shot himself as police closed in on his luxury suite on the 32nd-floor of the Mandalay Bay resort casino. Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo declined to say what led authorities to believe he planned an escape.
The previous weekend, Lombardo said, Paddock had rented a high-rise condo in a building that overlooked the Life is Beautiful alternative music festival featuring Chance the Rapper, Muse, Lorde and Blink-182. The sheriff offered no details about what led Paddock there.
On Sept. 28, the high-stakes gambler and real estate investor checked into Mandalay Bay and specifically requested an upper-floor room with a view of the Route 91 Harvest music festival, according to a person who has seen hotel records turned over to investigators.
The room, which goes for $590 a night, was given to Paddock for free because he was a good customer who wagered tens of thousands of dollars each time he visited the casino, the person said.
But as to why he caused this chaos, death, destruction, tears and tragedy?
My grandmother’s words may provide the only real answer: “There’s meanness out in this world.”
Robert Francis is editor of the Fort Worth Business Press.