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THE DARK SIDE: The Grateful Dead meet the courthouse crowd

David Ziemer

David Ziemer

When I was young, it was an annual event to go see the Grateful Dead perform at Alpine Valley. You can imagine what that entailed.

I never went to the extreme of traveling around the country to follow the band. Some people have always had to work, you know. But when they came to town every summer, it was a must.

I happened to recall my misspent youth the other day while walking through the Waukesha County Courthouse.

There was another attorney walking in front of me, and seated on a bench as we approached were a small boy and a woman.

As young as he was, I got the impression that the boy was a Child in Need of Protection and/or Services, and the woman a social worker. If so, there’s a good probability that the boy needed protective services because his parents regularly make dangerous and destructive lifestyle choices, similar to those we used to make at Grateful Dead concerts.

Anyway, as the man in front of me passed by, the boy proclaimed to the woman, “Hey! That’s a cool tie!”

“It’s a Jerry Garcia tie,” the man explained.

Then, as I passed, the boy said, “That’s a cool tie, too!”

“This is also a Jerry Garcia tie,” I explained.

The boy passed judgment: “Wow! That guy sure does make cool ties!”

Some things will never change. People will always take drugs for recreational purposes, and the state will always be powerless to do anything about it. But when parents abuse drugs, other people will always step in to try their best to help the children who are the victims.

I’m sure people will always listen to the Grateful Dead, even though Jerry is no longer with us. And every spring, the magnolia blossoms will bloom.

But other things do change. Men go from rolling in the mud with spaced-out hippie chicks at Grateful Dead concerts, to prowling the courthouses, wearing ties designed by Jerry Garcia.

More importantly, 20 years ago, children remained in the CHIPS system interminably, or rather, until they aged out of the system, and then were just dumped on the street. Guardian ad litems pompously pronounced recommendations that everyone knew would never come to pass.

Today, in contrast, courts make real efforts to either change parents’ behavior, or terminate their parental rights, so the children can be adopted. Children’s Court judges now talk with enthusiasm about their work, not with disillusion.

And that little boy’s life will change a great deal, too, hopefully for the better.

I know we will never reach a place where all parents love their children more than their drugs. Or where all children live in safe, loving homes.

But something in that little boy’s voice made me optimistic for the future, nonetheless.

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