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Of Walls And Texas Wieners

February 10, 2019

There are walls at the north and south boundaries of my modest Scranton backyard. One of them, built just a few years ago, replaced a previous version that was in danger of collapsing. The other wall isn’t much better, but I avoid looking at it; like a lot of things in life, that seems to solve the problem. The point, though, is that I’m not entirely sure either wall is on my property. My guess is that one is and one isn’t, and I’m hoping the one that is is the one I paid to rebuild. But it really doesn’t matter, because, as they say, good neighbors build good fences, or something like that. We are dealing with walls, however, not fences. I live in the Hill Section, where your neighbor’s first floor is likely to be at the level of your second floor, or vice versa, and walls are better than fences at keeping backyards from curdling onto adjacent properties. (It’s even worse if your neighbor’s children happen to ooze through into your yard, like during a heavy rain and landslide, because the law says you have to assume custody of them.) Anyway, why all the commotion over walls and fences at the U.S./Mexico border? These are not inherently good or bad things. “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know / What I was walling in or walling out, / And to whom I was like to give offence,” Robert Frost wrote. This has very little to do with my thesis, but tossing in a Frost quote enhances any work of prose, regardless of context. The fact is our lives are full of walls, fences and other barriers, even here in Northeast Pennsylvania. They often go unnoticed because … well, because they’re just there. Bogart Place in downtown Scranton is a quaint, artsy court bounded on one side by what has been called the China Wall because of its size — a block-long edifice that buttresses railroad tracks and, now, a small park. But there have been very few reports of immigrants — even legal ones — trying to surmount the China Wall to reach Coney Island on Cedar Avenue for a Texas wiener. And who among us has not traipsed through the surrounding countryside, stumbled upon a century-old stone wall and wondered, “Who on Earth would have built a wall out here in the middle of the woods?” Most likely those walls once separated someone’s farm from someone else’s farm, and there was very little smuggling going on when they were built. Even less now, except by chipmunks. My investigation of this whole issue seemed to be going nowhere — usually a sign that you’re looking in the wrong place for answers, and probably overlooking something obvious. Sure enough, it hit me: If you want to learn about walls, where better to turn than Wall Street? I tracked down an old friend, Bonnie McGeer, a former Times-Tribune reporter who left for a job on Wall Street more than 15 years ago and has been there ever since. I grilled her for information. The following is a transcript of the interview, edited for space, clarity and embarrassing personal references: RD: You’ve been working on Wall Street a long time. How effective are the walls at keeping people in or out? BM: Wall Street is a tourist attraction. So you could argue that our walls are effective at attracting people. RD: Was the wall a major factor in your decision to go to New York? BM: The exterior walls at my office are windows, from floor to ceiling all the way around, and we are on the 27th floor. We have an incredible view of the Statue of Liberty and the harbor and often get to see the most amazing sunsets. … I’ve seen the Blue Angels fly by more than once, and I have gotten surprised several times by a full fireworks show going off over the harbor on random nights when I am working late. (Best. Work. Interruption. Ever.) Walls of windows can bring a lot of joy. RD: Is there barbed wire on top of the wall — even, like, ornamental barbed wire? BM: Do dents from a bomb count as ornamental? The limestone walls at 23 Wall Street — the original headquarters of J.P. Morgan — are scarred from a bomb. The attack happened in 1920, and you can still see the marks. The bomb was in a horse-drawn carriage. Associates of Sacco and Vanzetti are believed to be responsible, but the case was never solved. RD: Well, my question was not “Can you give me a whole boring history of Wall Street?” But anyway, is it a big nuisance to have armed border patrol agents and drones around all the time? BM: I have yet to notice a drone. I ended the conversation there, sensing that it was about to devolve into one of those he-said/she-said exchanges in which I ask stupid questions and the person with whom I’m speaking offers intelligent answers. I have a lot of those. Still, there’s something to be said for good old-fashioned NEPA know-how. I’ve long suspected that some of the biggest problems we face as a nation and a planet could be solved by just stepping back and letting a fresh pair of eyes examine the situation. Maybe, for instance, the border wall issue would be better addressed not by immigrants and lawyers, not by Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi, but by … Jamie Cianfichi. Cianfichi is the owner of Four Seasons Grounds Care in Madison Twp. One of his company’s specialties is walls. I called him last week to find out if he could install a wall along the continental border, which is just shy of 2,000 miles long. He seemed interested. “We do Versa-Lok-type concrete modular units,” he said. “Basically they’re retaining walls.” Perfect, I thought; that’s exactly what we’re trying to do — retain people who want to go from the country they’re in to a country they’re not in. Four Seasons has done walls anywhere from 3 to 23 feet high. I figured 10 feet would be about right. After all, how many illegal immigrants are more than 10 feet tall? Cianfichi did some quick ciphering — I think he was using a calculator, but I’m pretty sure he could have done it in his head — and quoted me a price: $3.36 billion, which is significantly less than the $5.7 billion the president has been demanding from Congress. I asked him how long it would take. “About 17 million, 600,000 man-hours,” he estimated. “With a five-man crew, that’s about 1,760 years.” Seems too good to be true, doesn’t it? A massive infrastructure project that would not only shore up our nation’s porous borders but provide employment for generations of workers. I asked Cianfichi if the White House had been in touch with him. “Not yet,” he said. Contact the writer: rdavis@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9100 x5127

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