Thursday, June 26, 2014

Pleading the Fourth

But just as they did in Philadelphia when they were writing the constitution, sooner or later, you've got to compromise. You've got to start making the compromises that arrive at a consensus and move the country forward.

"My get up and go has got up and went." So warbled the late folk singer Pete Seeger. Sleep deprived, jet lagged and now under the weather, a charming colloquialism describing nothing that an intense upper respiratory affords. Stuck inside on a beautiful day, depressed....

Wait, the final days of the Supreme Court's 2013 session are here! It's time for - law porn!!

You've been warned.

I'm going to skip  AMERICAN BROADCASTING COS., INC., ET AL. v. AEREO, INC., FKA BAMBOOM LABS, INC.  because I don't watch network news (although Justice Scalia's tart but respectful dissent is fun in a contrarian sort of way). FIFTH THIRD BANCORP ET AL. v. DUDENHOEFFER, ET AL. has a cool name but involves fiduciary duties as they relate to an employee stock option in a defined-contribution retirement plan. Just wow. NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD v. NOEL CANNING ET AL.  is being billed as a unanimous slap down. It's not. Justice Scalia, in a pithy concurrence, asks quite reasonably how the court can decide that one plus two equals three days of recess...sometimes, but it depends. 

No, we're here.... Okay, I know that we are me and my dogs CJ and Jed (named after characters in The West Wing, which figures, right? Both are, at this moment, sleeping soundly) because the hit numbers on these entries are paltry. Why do I write them? Let me tell you a story, passed on by my late father some years ago.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Michelin Model XGV 75/R14

Passerby: "You got mud in your tires."
Vincent LaGuardia Gambini: "Mud in my tires. Let me axe ya, how do you get mud into the tires?"
Passerby: Oh no, that's just a figure of speech. You see, the mud gets around the inside of the wheel, throws the balance off."
Vinnie: (to Mona Lisa Vito) "You ever hear of that, mud in the tires?"
Lisa: "No."
Vinnie: (To the passerby) "She never heard of it and she knows everything about cars.
Passerby: (Looking Lisa up and down). "Hahahaha!!!"
My Cousin Vinnie, (1992)

A flat is a flat, right? A nail, a screw.... A hunk of screwdriver (my personal favorite). The tire guy reams it out with an awl-thingy, stuffs a bunch of something in the hole, hooks it up to a compressor and oo-rah, back on the road.

I guess my mistake was taking it to the unnamed mega-dealer located near a large mall on the western edge of Lakewood. 

Dropping it off involved three separate "service professionals" at two computer screens. We were in the system (we've bought two cars from them) but it still took a ten minute info dump. 

Service Counselor: "What's wrong with it?"
Me: "It's flat."
SC: "I don't see anything in the tread."

Neither did I, but I'd changed it at 11:30 the night before specifically so I could take it to a professional first thing in the morning. Sleep-deprived, jet-lagged.... Dude, really? They are busy - it will be later in the afternoon before they can get to it.

The word comes - of course, instead of calling me on the cell (as I had specifically requested) they leave a message on the home phone. The sidewall is damaged. The tire will have to be replaced at a cost of two hundred six dollars. Mounted and balanced, of course.

This is what happens when it's not mud in the tires, but nitrogen.

Me: (Teeth clenched) "Fine."
Them: We'll have it for you next Monday.
Me: "Next Monday?!"
Them: "It's a very popular tire."


Vinnie: "Let me ask you this: What's the best selling single model tire being sold in the United States today?"
George Wilbur: "The Michelin XGV."
Vinnie: "And what's the most popular size?"
George: "75R14."

This morning, while writing this, Daughter Beth texts that the review course she is using to prepare for the Maryland Bar calls the Federal Rules of Evidence witness impeachment for sensory defect the "My Cousin Vinnie" rule. 

Movie lines - laughing in the face of distress, be it buying a new tire, or preparing for a bar exam.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Let it Go

Solstice is about finding unhealthy things to let go of. Me - I'm not responsible for things I can't control. As my career winds down, I'm responsible for me and mine. I would give me to keep them safe. But I must admit to limits.

It was a beautiful sunset on this "longest day of the year." I'm lucky.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Another Beautiful Save

"I don't think there is anything like saving someone's life to bring you satisfaction and happiness." Stephanie Kwolek.

Stephanie Kwolek was born in Pennsylvania, her parents having immigrated to the US from Poland. She began working for DuPont as a chemist, putting off medical school. She retired in 1986 having won numerous awards and obtaining a number of patents - Kevlar, among others.

Stephanie Kwolek at Spinning Elements by Harry Kalish.TIFThe number of police officers, military member and others who are alive today because of this amazing invention cannot be counted. Although "bulletproof" is a misnomer, the lightweight vests worn by cops, animal control officers, and code enforcement officers do their jobs almost daily. Helmets made of the stuff adorn the heads of millions of first responders and military members.

One of the first law enforcement officers I met was an Arapahoe County sheriff's deputy who was shot by a suspect wielding a shotgun. The buckshot pellet - roughly the size of a 32 caliber bullet, was stopped by his vest (not before putting a hole in his tie). One of the members of my department, when he was working for another agency, was saved by his vest during a gun battle. 

Ms. Kwolek apparently did not spend a lot of her time figuring out ways to use her invention - she was a research chemist, after all. That's okay. Others have taken it from there. In my locker, smelling vaguely of Fabreze, is a piece of equipment I wear every duty day. I hope it never lives up to its intended use but, if it does, I will also be able to live up to mine. I will have the daughter of Polish immigrants to thank.

Farewell, ma'am. Thank you.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Another Road

"Seen the false horizon fade away like bison
Headed for the jungle, the cowboy can't endure
Never look back, that's what he swore
I'll take my pony to the shore
somewhere, somewhere" Take Another Road, Jimmy Buffett (Off To See The Lizard, 1989).

I was at a training class recently. I wore cargo Dockers and a silk shirt - tan and green palm trees, creme background. One of my friends referred to me for the rest of the day as "Jimmy Buffett."

Posting beach selfies when I was in Florida for daughter Beth's wedding, sharing vistas courtesy of "Sanibel Island and Ft. Myers Beach" on FB moved my Cuz Carol to encourage me to maintain my Jimmy Buffett side. 

I love Jimmy Buffett music. I am hugely envious and amazingly impressed how James William Buffett, born Christmas Day in Mississippi, has become Jimmy Buffett - musician, author, businessman.

Then I run across obscure songs like this.

And I love his music even more.

Shave and a Haircut

You're only as good as your last haircut.

Haircuts. Since returning to law enforcement in 1991 I have had to be conscious of the length of my hair. You would think that the sort of military-style cut I've come to prefer (anything else suffers under a bike helmet) would mean I could walk in almost anywhere and get what I need. But I say nay nay! I've become something of a barbershop vagabond.

In Northglenn, I visited a classic barbershop that was walking distance from the house. I tried to go in the morning - the liquid lunches the "stylists" consumed (if they weren't nipping between cuts) made the afternoon risky business. The cuts were a little erratic, too, no matter when I arrived.

Wandering the Dupont Circle neighborhood in DC, I ducked into a salon. The haircut, bestowed by a small woman speaking Vietnamese at high-speed to someone across the room, was fabulous. It started several years visiting Aveda joints. I met a stylist in one who helped me tremendously to flesh out fictional police sergeant Amy Painter. But, keeping appointments on hectic days off proved difficult.

Which eventually led me to Roosters at Colorado Mills. Rich wood tones, full-service stations and the offer of water or soft drinks on arrival. Walk in without an appointment - they pull up my profile so I don't have to remember if I prefer a two or a three. I glanced at the price list....

"Professional Hero Cut." Their regular cut, discounted for Armed Forces, police and firefighters. I told them I'm a writer.  

This week someone called to tell us he'd just shot someone (it turned out to be false). As a bevy of young police officers set up on the house, one of the SWAT guys organized the inner perimeter and established an immediate action team. What is that? If shooting starts in earnest they move to the sound of the guns. Hero? The men and women up close - absolutely.

That same night, probably as I was driving by in my Tacoma on the way home, a man was shot to death at a hotel. An acting supervisor (a veteran with service in Afghanistan) rushed to the scene to organize the response and begin the investigation. His relative inexperience didn't stop him from stepping up, being accountable.... Leading. In our little world courage takes many forms.

The next night, another shooting. Two officers who were already off duty (both fathers...working on Father's Day) ran out of the station, got into a police car and rushed into the fray. The suspect was found at a convenience store. Another response team formed, with many of the same individuals as the night before. The possibility of a person hiding in the store became obvious. A group of cops enter. Outside, officers discuss their "fumble" point - where they might retreat to in the event someone starts shooting at them. They decide they can't move because other officers behind them would be vulnerable. They will have to stand their ground. Those  folks should get $5 off on their next haircut.

I am surrounded by brave men and women who risk a great deal in the service of their community. They are thoughtful, bright and physically imposing people who work long, erratic schedules. Every year several are injured doing a difficult job.

Professional Hero. I've met a lot of them.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Teach Your Children Well

"There's an old man sitting next to me, making love to his tonic and gin." Piano Man, Billy Joel (Columbia Records, 1973).

I learned how to be a man from my father. I learned how to laugh, to love and to work hard. I also learned to drink from him.

His favorite summer drink was the Gin and Tonic. Burgundy Basin Inn bartender Vinnie (his real name - he had been a Monroe County Sheriff's deputy in the '60s) never served one without priming the rim with a lime. My friend John Needham and I sat for hours, solving the problems of the world as only 20 year olds can, with Vinnie's handiwork before us.

My dad is gone, his life's work done. Tonight, I toasted him with a G&T. Happy Father's Day, you goofy old guy.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Improvise, Adapt, Overcome

"I traveled to San Francisco, and I arrived with a very bad cold. A friend of mine recommended drinking a quart of whiskey every twenty-four hours, and another friend recommended exactly the same thing. That made a half a gallon." Mark Twain

I have been told that an obsession with drinking - thinking about it, planning for moments of it, obsessing - is unhealthy. Surely, the disease of alcoholism is a nasty business that destroys everyone in its wake. I am steeped in, awash in, the victims of over-consumption in my professional guise. That said....

- My father had passed away. Our daughter, miraculously, had delivered a healthy child (albeit the size of a burrito) and was herself on the mend. Our other daughter, and our son, joined us at a hotel suite in anticipation of Dad's funeral. We opened a bottle of wine, then a second. The stories flowed - he had been the Marine who orchestrated a jail break springing his pre-Iwo Jima company commander (dressed as a corporal) after his arrest for gambling. The father who led his sons onto a 100' cliff to pick blueberries, their mother screaming at all four of them from above. He was the engineer who designed many of the electronics that landed men on the Moon. He entertained his grandchildren with ribald songs, believing (as was his style) that life is best lived at full throttle. We laughed and we cried. His anger with us would have been great had we lamented his demise instead of toasting his good fortune in life.

- Under the shade of a banyan tree we shared a fabulous dinner with our daughter and her boyfriend. We'd driven to Key West and gloried in their presence. It is impossible to tell someone who has not had this experience - having an adult child move away is gut-wrenching. Being in their company once more, seeing their shining face and hearing their unamplified voice is life itself. The stories continued but the first bottle of wine did not survive them. We ordered a favorite, Kendall Jackson Chardonnay. The waiter chuckled. "Old Reliable," he said with an approving smile. Years before my wife - at the time she was my girlfriend - and I understood the inevitability of our love for each other over glasses of KJs .

- His birth had been astonishingly eventful yet nearly three year old grandson Graham sat in a chair, legs crossed and munched a burger. Beside him his mom and I sipped margaritas and gloried in his, and our, good fortune. Touching glasses we, with misty eyes, marveled at our collective blessings that this little man had gotten so big.

- Irish whisky punctuated the toast to my mother-in-law. She was a complex and remarkable woman who had been abruptly and capriciously taken from us. I am Irish and have married into an Irish family. We know only too well that life eventually breaks the heart. So we drink to the dearly departed, thank a loving God that we knew them in life and revel in the company of those still here.

- Our life is in turmoil and yet.... We have found a bar on the Royal Caribbean ship Liberty of the Seas. The drink of the day is the mango Mai Tai. For the next six days we think nothing of work, bills or the travails of being adults. We toast to sunsets, uninterrupted reading and the snorkeling to come.

Our lives are measured by the times we spend with family and friends. We remember those who have left us and celebrate them. If God did not intend us to share these moments with the fruits of vine and vat, she would have insisted that Dr. Pepper be served at the last supper.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

In the Fishbowl

We sit at the coffee shop, focused. My friend has returned from a trip and brought trinkets. They are information sheets made of some kind of flexible plastic. Military officers use them to diagram field problems, jot notes and calculate...well, the things infantry officers calculate. "Permanent" markers are used because good weather isn't always guaranteed when the fray takes place outdoors. Perfect for police sergeants commanding critical incidents.

Around us, the usual cacophony at Starbucks - couples awaiting their lattes, individuals hunched over laptops or tablets, groups of laughing patrons nibbling scones and sipping as the stories engage them.

Our conversation turns to process, training the laminated checklists created by another talented friend. We discuss an arcane bit of tactical reality, how an "immediate reaction team" is constituted. How to cue incident commanders or their subordinates to the material needs of this group?

We are wary of our surroundings, no matter how our conversation draws us in. Another senseless ambush has occurred, two officers murdered as they ate. Everyone in the place knows who we are. The blue uniforms, patches and doo-dads of our profession give us little cover. We drive cars designed to broadcast our presence. It could happen to us.

Friday, June 6, 2014


They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After two days of fighting, only 90 could still bear arms.
"The Boys of Pointe Du Hoc" a speech by President Ronald Reagan, Normandy, France June 6th, 1984.

On June 6th 1944 men from The United States, Canada, Great Britain, Free France and other nations conducted the invasion of Normandy. The beach landings, parachute assaults and glider attacks resulted in thousands of casualties among the soldiers who participated. Bravery, sacrifice and grit turned what might easily have been a horrible defeat into a tenuous but workable new front in the war against the criminals "leading" Germany.

Most of the men who participated in the D-Day battle have passed, the youngest among them approaching ninety years old. Soon, there will be no one who remembers the sound of the Higgins Boat engines, the whir of the ramp slamming into the wet sand (or, more likely four feet of cold angry Atlantic). Gone will be those who got the green light in rattling C-47s, leaping into a night sky filled with flying lead. The final "Boy from Pointe Du Hoc" will pass into history. All that will be left are the accounts...and the generations of free people who have bathed in the blessings of freedom, won in no small part on this day seventy years ago.

The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. It was the deep knowledge -- and pray God we have not lost it -- that there is a profound moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt. "The Boys of Pointe Du Hoc"

Wednesday, June 4, 2014


I was going to note the passing of longtime baseball great Don Zimmer. Rockies fans will remember him as a member of the first coaching staff of Colorado's expansion team.

But three New Brunswick (Canada) police officers were killed today by an active shooter. Two more were wounded. The suspect apparently remains at large. My thoughts tonight are with the officers risking their lives to bring this incident to a close, and with the families of those who lost their lives or are recovering from wounds. We stand together, brothers and sisters who face danger so that our communities can be safe. Borders are irrelevant.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Brain Bleach

"There is no good naked in police work." Multiple sources.

The naked man followed a well dressed patron into the grocery store's gasoline pavilion. Multiple fully-clothed adults pointed in his direction, as though the presence of a wrinkled fifty year old sporting a birthday suit would escape my attention.

I let the gent out. An unshaven but tanned face graced an otherwise pale body, sagging chest and modest pot belly. A street guy. Homeless.

"Where are your clothes?" I asked, trying not to laugh.

"That guy is wearing them." Mr. In The Buff pointed at the man he'd followed into the station - gold chains, spirited beach shirt, beige shorts and Jamaica-flagged flip-flops.

The poor clothed man, his presence in the melodrama due entirely to poor timing, stood dumbstruck, as though I would order some kind of exchange. "I love the flip flops," I offered. "Do you know him?"

"Christ no!"

As luck would have it, the next source of clothing - in the eyes of the neckid guy - was me.

"I'd look good in that," he said, pointing to my uniform.

Meanwhile, passersby took photos and video of him...and me...on a cloudless day in Colorado. It seems he'd thought his own clothing too soiled to wear and so he'd taken them off, wandering through a parking lot filled with afternoon traffic, hoping someone would donate their clothes to him.We got him out of there - off to a hospital.

I kept my uniform, and went home to a glass of wine. He got a towel and a place to stay for the night.