My wife and I made a trip to Disney World early this month. We were blessed to be able to go with two of our grown daughters and our grandson, who is a couple months shy of 4 years old.
Watching him was a revelation.
As he waited to meet Disney characters for photos and autographs, he bounced like a pogo stick and danced deliriously, eyes sparkling with anticipation. When they were ready, he ran to them -- male or female, human or animal, furry or feathered -- and gave each an enormous hug. And promptly was enveloped in their arms.
When each session was done, he gave a high-five, then started his giddy pogoing and dancing all over again. Some characters, swept up in his ebullience, danced with him.
After observing one meeting with Goofy, the boyfriend of one of my daughters remarked, "I hope I can be that happy every day."
I clung to that feeling for the rest of the trip and as we returned to Long Island. Then I got caught up with the news while we were gone.
I read about Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano's secretary getting a $95,000 raise to become a $164,999-a-year director of intergovernmental affairs and community service representative at the publicly funded Nassau University Medical Center. What a world.
I read about a Garden City health club getting more than $2 million in tax breaks from Nassau's Industrial Development Agency, a violation of a state ban on giving such help to retailers. The IDA massaged that by citing two exceptions: renting lockers to members is like a landlord-tenant relationship, it said, and having an anticipated 2,000 members from outside Nassau makes the gym a tourist destination. Really?
Just before we left, news broke that the former Westhampton Beach Village police chief received a $403,000 retirement payout that included payment for 300 unused sick days. Also factored in was compensation for 10 personal days, 208 vacation days and 13 holidays. I get that -- but sick days? You use them if you need them. If not, congrats, you were healthy.
That was preceded by revelations about big pay for connected part-time and seasonal workers in Nassau, like Zahid Syed, a Mangano contributor who made $125,736 as a full-time Hempstead Town economic development zone coordinator while raking in $66,500 last year as a part-time golf course attendant. Syed is one of three part-time golf course attendants who earned more than three full-time golf course managers.
And I started wondering: What's the real fantasyland, Disney World or Long Island?
There never seems to be a shortage of people in government doing things with the public's money that don't pass the smell test. That's what this is: money we've paid in taxes, or money we're going to have to cover with more taxes, being used in ways that make you queasy. And all of it is legal, which makes it worse.
It's enough to turn Happy into Grumpy, and morph Doc into Dopey.
As we get older, we tend to react one of two ways to this kind of news:
We shrug because we've seen it before. What else did we expect?
Or we boil with rage as we realize some rotten things never change.
For me, I'm going to fight the urge to be complacent. I'm going to continue to complain, and continue to demand that the public's money be spent properly.
Now, please excuse me, I'm going back to Disney World.
I need a hug.