Friday, November 30, 2012

Boots

“I just knew I had to help him.”  Hear the heartwarming story directly from the NYPD officer in this photo, Larry DePrimo: http://tinyurl.com/d62lqdc

NYPD Officer Larry DePrimo sets a benchmark for kindness, purchasing boots for a homeless man in Times Square. Where is yours?

Cruisin' Denial

"The rest of those who have gone before us cannot steady the unrest of those to follow."

Fall vacation. Just the words put a lilt in my voice and a warm ray of sunshine in my heart. It means "slipping the surly bonds of Earth" and flying to some far away destination. It means some beach somewhere. It means the undivided attention of my lovely, bright, engaging wife - and my undivided attention to her. A big boat, a room with a view. It means Kindles and restoratives, swimsuits and suntan lotion, lavish dining, a tux for me and an evening dress for her.

This year, it is also an escape from pain. The loss of a coworker is only part of it - a huge part, to be sure. But I've had to watch, powerless, as friends around me struggle to understand that loss. When a good friend mentions that a part of him believes his buddy is on vacation and will soon call...and there are no words for him I feel helpless.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Writing Cops

Homicide detective Mick Jenkins stepped through the tavern doorway onto the sidewalk. Showing his back to the icy afternoon wind, he turned up the collar on his soiled trench coat and headed for the station. The worn garment was about all she'd left him. That, and a broken heart.

Dames.

funny cop thComedyPolice.jpg photoA good street cop is often a widely varied subject matter expert. Generally fluent in tequila-ese, able to glance authoritatively at an auto engine, whistle sadly and call a tow, he or she has one thing in common with all brothers and sisters of the blue.

We are SMEs on us.

Consequently, any writer presuming to venture into cops as characters would do well to meet some, marry one or be one. Failing those (my wife would caution against marrying one, but that is a separate blog) I humbly offer a few tips. First, some caveats.

1) We are not who we appear to be. Most of us are especially guarded about who we are and what we do. My publisher's editor once told me he "knew" female cops because he'd "met one." One?!

2) Sometimes, we drop F Bombs like Aspen snowflakes in January. Never...well, rarely in public. Behind closed doors, f*&k yeah.

3) We are people. We laugh, we cry, we feel fear, pain...heartbreak. Just because we don't show it off to anyone but our intimates doesn't mean it's not there.

Okay, here we go.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Horse Sense

"There is nothing so good for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse." Ronald Reagan

Picture of Ronald Reagan riding his horse.What a miserable ten days. A popular, outgoing young man became my police department's first duty death, the victim of a mishap at the hands of another officer. I missed the funeral only because I was fourteen hundred miles away beginning the process of finding an assisted living facility for my mother. Watching the service on a laptop, tears in my eyes, texts from my wife filling in some of the details, I felt estranged and terribly alone.

Today's horseback riding lesson could not have come at a worse time. Tired, jet lagged and self-absorbed, I went only because our cruise in fast approaching, the horse-born shore excursion will be more enjoyable with lessons and it seemed like the thing to do.

The trainer began the lesson expressing condolences. I appreciated that greatly - many people don't know what to say, so they say nothing. Then, she said "Let's focus on something else for a while."

I've taken lessons on and off...mostly off. I know how to make the beasts stop, and go. I'm comfortable when the horse is walking slowly, less so at the faster trot, and the canter, also known as a lope but not quite the run-like-hell.... Eject, eject, eject! So when the subject of loping came up I just chuckled. "That Val, helluva sense of humor."

She was serious. It was terrifying. It was ragged, flailing...amateurish. It was awesome. I got so the horse would keep me on his back as we loped along all the way around the arena. Getting settled - sit back, heels down, hands following the rhythm of the long strides - took every bit of concentration I could muster. I felt strong, powerful...free.

Turns out I needed tonight desperately.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Duty

Lionel Tribbey: "It's from Penzance, or Iolanthe. One of the ones about duty"
Ainsley Hayes: "They're all about duty."*

Something was wrong.

An old friend wore his police uniform - he does not work a uniformed assignment - as he climbed into a car in the lot. A Denver Police vehicle sat in front of our station. Unusual. I got to my desk shortly before six in the morning and called Dispatch.

There'd been a call - a prowler, maybe a burglary. Random shots, then purposeful ones. Someone had been hit.

The shock of hearing from the calltaker that a coworker had been killed on duty did not wear off for several hours. There were occasional, unpredictable moments of tears. Anger led to grief and then disbelief when I learned that the shooting was accidental, a tragic case of misidentification. I didn't really let go until I'd found my wife's arms, standing in full uniform in our kitchen sobbing on her shoulder.

Policework is a 24/7 proposition. Our shop never closes. I appeared in uniform at six the next morning. Low, gray clouds hung a pall in the air. Snow fell in the early afternoon. Officers went about their business in robotic inanimation, hollow voices relaying routine messages to equally washed out dispatchers. Citizens' needs handled by rote - men and women with black-masked badges and red-rimmed eyes delivering perfunctory, if adequate police service.

The community was respectful, even reverential. Flowers appeared, bags of cookies, pizzas. Money, offered by organized citizen groups or collected ad hoc in small denominations, handed over for the family. To do something, anything, for a man who'd left behind a young wife, two children and hundreds of friends.

Then - the inevitable. The alert tone summoning us to a burglary in progress. Was it starting again?

Eight of us showed up. Guns out, go slow...by the numbers. Careful, calculated. A person detained, the house empty. A misunderstanding. Our luck holds. Cold, melting snow ran down the back of my neck, but that did not cause the shiver I felt. We returned to our cars and departed.

Adrenaline junkies? Hardly. Each of us had accepted this day as a possibility long before our friend fell. An imperfect society summons men and women to its aid. We respond not for riches or fame.

We feel a sense of duty. To you. To each other.

Especially to each other.



*John Larroquette and Emily Proctor, And It's Surely To Their Credit, The West Wing, 2000.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Hidden Victims

Today we lost one of our own. I wanted to write, but words escaped me. So, read my daughter's writing. She expresses the struggles of the hidden victims far better than I ever could.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Little Big Man

"Tearful nights, angry dawns."

Patriotic Ribbon #2Over the course of these past months I have been called racist, misogynist and homophobic...by my friends. I have been urged to vote not out of passion, or principle but for revenge. I've been encouraged to believe that the triumph of one candidate over the other is a mandate to band together and take things belonging to others not out of necessity, but out of envy. Polling places, and the people serving them, were adorned with the likenesses and campaign regalia of one of the contestants. A man who cobbled together a coalition of the self-interested accepts victory by urging us forward as "one people" without ever having announced a destination. The winner was dragged over the finish line by cheerleaders fawningly giving him credit for the bravery of others and at the same time refusing to hold him accountable for his own cowardice. Commentators celebrate a storm that killed over a hundred people, hinting that it made a positive difference in the election. The President's one recent shining moment recorded him watching accounts of citizens fighting for, and losing, their lives as he wore a $5000 suit they bought him, sipping $40 a pound coffee from a gold-rimmed cup.

I can't sleep.

Yet, I see the standard bearers of my own faith once again leading us into a bitter wilderness. We preach liberty and practice intolerance. We reap the harvest - literally and figuratively - of hard-working families encouraged to cross our borders only to feign shock that they have remained among us "illegally." We brand one form of love as spiritual and all others as cursed. Far from embracing fellow citizens for the content of their character, we apply values tests as though ours is the one and true faith. We have eliminated from our midst those who would work shoulder to shoulder with us, to build a future not only for ourselves, but for the generations who will accept a staggering burden of debt as our parting gift.

It is nearly dawn, and for the first time in my adult life I'm frightened.