By KAREN PARKER | County Line Publisher

Whenever I find myself totally disgusted with the newspaper business, as I did last week, when we ran two page 2’s, I remind myself that one could be in a worse career. Pumping septic tanks and law enforcement usually come to mind. Both jobs bring one face to face with the unattractive side of humanity.

That point was driven home on Thursday evening, when I agreed to man the refreshment stand for the Ontario Community Club. What could go wrong? It was a beautiful summer evening: Handsome young men in the prime of life swatted a ball around under star-studded skies, with wives and girlfriends exchanging gossip in the stands and little tykes giving the playground equipment a workout.

How small town! How folksy! How bucolic!

Or not.

We were about halfway through the evening of slow sales when a fellow rolled up to the window.

“I’ll have a hot dog,” he mumbled, painfully enunciating each word.

We had barely delivered the first dog when he demanded another, and then a bag of chips and finally a bag of popcorn. It was agonizing to watch him fumble through his money, trying to determine the correct amount to give us. Finally, when we got to the popcorn, I suggested that, as he had been a good customer, the popcorn was on us. But, no, he insisted on paying and clumsily sorted through a handful of small change while steadying himself by clinging to the counter.

“Take the popcorn,” I repeated again and again, but there was no budging the fellow.

Someone suggested we might want to close and lock the door to the stand, but the stand has screen windows, so how would that help?

We watched as a Vernon County squad rolled past, its driver seemingly oblivious to the scenario playing out.

But the cop car did not go unnoticed by his female companion, who staggered into her car, cranked the radio volume up to maximum, and began screaming at the fellow to get in the car.

Not to be distracted from his gourmet meal, our fellow began stuffing his dog and bun into his mouth, with the excess falling on the ground.

A few minutes later, the Ontario squad rolled past, again its driver seemingly oblivious to our plight. Whether it was that or something else that penetrated the man’s fog, he finally climbed in the car, and they drove off, leaving behind a sea of dumped popcorn, half-chewed hot dogs, an empty saltshaker and a final punch that dented the Plexiglas window in the stand.

As it turned out, the police were not as oblivious as I had thought. They made a traffic stop and charged the couple with various offenses.

I know I am a stuffy old lady, but, really, what a way to live. Can it be fun to be so far gone that you can’t count out four quarters? Why in heaven’s name would people want to make a spectacle of themselves at a softball game?

Our local police chief often reminds me that I am ignorant of much of the seamy activity that occurs in the village. And he is probably right. While he is tracking down the rascals, I am asleep in my bed. When a meth-lab bust, one of the biggest ever in the Coulee Region, occurred last week in Hillsboro, not many miles from my home, I was as surprised as the average person.

The general public believes newspapers have a hot wire to criminal events, but mostly we only know what we are told by law enforcement, and at times that isn’t much. If you read the Vernon County Sheriff’s report, you would think the entire force is primarily occupied with car/deer crashes.

One thing we do know is that drug and alcohol abuse is not in short supply locally. Statistics for Monroe and Vernon counties reveal that 23-26 percent of adults report binge drinking. That is an astounding one in four people!

In Wisconsin in 2010, at least 1,732 people died, 3,511 were injured, and 67,345 were arrested as a direct result of alcohol use and misuse. Given Wisconsin’s high rate of alcohol consumption, it is not surprising that the consequences associated with alcohol use also tend to be higher than the national average.

Wisconsin has 1.5 times the national rate of arrests for operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated and more than three times the national rate of arrests for other liquor law violations.

The economic cost to the taxpayer is staggering. Consider the $25 million for a new Monroe County jail. How many of those 180 beds will be occupied by those who have committed drug- and alcohol-related crimes? How many more millions in lost productivity and in funds to support the family members of those who are jailed? What is the social cost of children raised in households headed by alcohol and drug addicts?

More than 23 million Americans needed treatment for an alcohol or drug problem in 2012, but only 11 percent received it, according to estimates from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Obamacare was designed to bring more treatment to low-income people, but under a decades-old federal restriction, drug treatment centers with more than 16 beds can’t bill Medicaid for residential services provided to low-income adults.

Consequently, drug rehabilitation centers are turning away new Medicaid beneficiaries who are entitled to treatment under Obamacare.

As long as we continue to treat drug and alcohol abuse as a crime instead of an illness, we will chase our tails, building more jails that provide a free lunch to addicts but never address the problem.

And after they have sat in jail on our dime for a few days or a few months, we turn them loose to torment old ladies in popcorn stands.

Isn’t that just ducky?