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Livelihoods and liberty left in the lurch

Salena Zito on

ROSS TOWNSHIP, Pennsylvania -- Seven years ago, combat veteran Jack Mook was a hard-nosed Pittsburgh detective who stumbled upon two young brothers who showed up intermittently at the boxing gym where he volunteered. The boys were living on the edge of despair: Their birth parents had failed them; their foster parents had failed them; and the system had failed them.

The "home" the boys lived in was a rat's nest with dog feces, fleas and no beds. The oldest brother's hair was falling out in gobs, and his skin was filled with red blotches. The younger brother wept all of the time.

In short order, Mook got an emergency order and brought the boys home. Nights out for Mook the bachelor became family nights of pizza and board games. Healthier food became part of their lives, and so did rules, homework and structure.

In the years it took Mook to legally become their father, he learned one thing: Government, bureaucracy and institutions designed to serve consistently fail their mission on several levels.

Today, he is newly married to Mary. The boys are now thriving young men. He is retired from the force and has opened a boxing gym that trains young athletes -- a business that, like many small businesses across the country, has been forced to close under government edicts.

Once again, Mook is staring down an entanglement of government far removed from the needs and the rights of the people it is designed to serve.

 

Mook isn't alone. He is a snapshot of small businesses that are frozen with the effects of uncertainty, loss, fear and frustration, possibly going from the center of their neighborhoods to abandoned sentinels holding up the ghosts of businesses that used to be.

A year ago, Ray Mikesell was offering "Sunday Suppers" to his customers -- family-style meals on long tables, just like Grandma used to make when growing up, bringing together parents, cousins, uncles and neighbors on a weekly basis. He served the meals at his Penn Avenue restaurant to people who no longer had family to eat with. Despite few people knowing each other, the suppers always ended up being just as noisy and just as delicious, and they filled a void many people found in their lives.

Today, Mikesell is doing whatever he can to keep his doors open. He, too, has been kneecapped by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf's mandated restaurant shutdown. Now he's making dinners for four to take home, offering home delivery and hoping the phone rings for takeout orders.

There have been societal effects from these closures that show both the good and the bad in our culture. Many question how we as a nation were so quickly willing to give up our liberties. Others find it to be a political occurrence and praise it. Others in the middle wonder how elected officials have become so tone-deaf that they can stand at a podium and destroy their friends' and neighbors' lives, knowing they themselves will walk away from the cameras and the press with their jobs. They also wonder whether these elected officials have ever sat with a restaurant owner who has laid off the staff, is struggling to make ends meet and is on the brink of closing forever.

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