Mea Culpa

When Gary Griffith ran as the anti-cheese mayor, I thought it was a joke. I wish I’d been right.

This is an apology to Gary Griffith. Back in March, when the former city councilman was fighting for a spot in the mayoral runoff, he aired a television commercial positioning himself as the anti-cheese candidate. At some point, we’ll be able to dispense with the definition, but in case you’ve been away: cheese is black tar heroin mixed with Tylenol PM or other cold medicines. It was invented right here in North Texas. Anyway, Griffith’s campaign commercial struck me as a disingenuous political ploy. It seemed an effort to generate a little heat for himself by cozying up to an issue popular with the scaremongering news media. A sample (cue Griffith, brow knitted):

“Our children face a new, fatal, addictive form of heroin ironically called cheese. Shockingly, it’s a heroin drug for children—as young as 10 or 11. It’s a killer. It’s cheap. And it must be stopped. Warn your kids. Demand action. The precious lives of our children are being destroyed.”

Even NBC Channel 5 news anchor Mike Snyder doesn’t have the range to hit that note of alarmism. So I poked fun at Griffith on our blog, FrontBurner, and called his commercial “poppycock.” And now I apologize for that. I still think Griffth’s ad was a political ploy, but I no longer see it as disingenuous. I think Griffith knew then what I came to learn in working with Craig Hanley on his story this month. Namely, that cheese is a real problem.

There are the deaths, of course. None of the families and friends and teachers of the 23 teenagers in town who have died of cheese overdoses since January 2005 need to be told that the drug is a problem. But I didn’t know any of those kids. Give me a little distance. As long as I don’t have to carry the casket, I can slip into comfortable indifference.

My 8-year-old son spent most of the last week of summer break with me at work, wiling away the hours on my office couch, watching Justice League videos on my laptop. That’s what happens when Mom and Dad don’t plan well. And during that week, I was working on Craig’s story. In one meeting with our designers about how best to illustrate the connection between Mexican drug cartels and street-level gangs, and how that relationship might affect the cheese problem, we had to talk over the battle cries of the Green Lantern and Hawkgirl.

“Hey, buddy,” I said to my son. “Have you ever heard of cheese?”

“Yeah, that’s the drug that some kids have taken,” he said. “It’s bad for you. It can kill you, like even if you only try it one time.”

His answer—delivered in the no-duh, condescending tone that every parent knows—surprised me. He and I have never discussed drugs. It’s obviously time we did.

Now, my son attends a Dallas public school. Some of you in Frisco and Southlake are probably saying to yourself, “That explains it. Cheese is a DISD problem.” Which is code for “a poor Hispanic problem.” You’ve got your distance. Maybe you’ve found your comfortable indifference. But as our writer Craig Hanley discovered, if something doesn’t change, indifference is a luxury you might not be able to afford much longer.

Do I sound like a scaremonger? My apologies to Gary Griffith.

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