Thursday, September 25, 2014


There is a saying in Baltimore that crabs may be prepared in fifty ways and that all of them are good.

Baltimore has been called "Washington's Brooklyn" (In case you are wondering, that isn't a compliment). Sportswriter Mark Kram, a city native, once wrote that his hometown was anonymous "even to those who live there." It is a place Philadelphia residents look down on with disdain - and the symbol of their city is a bell with a crack in it as long as your arm.  Who knows from Baltimore?

In the middle Seventies city officials decided to burnish the city's image. Plans for Baltimore's renewal were on drawing boards, but any campaign needs a hook. Pop. What can be more persuasive to sneering throngs than a new nickname?

Charm City.

Two days ago I watched Baltimore recede, my seat in a creaking, aged 737 affording a magnificent view of the busy corridor connecting Charm City with Washington. Clearly visible as we climbed were the iconic buildings constituting the seat of our Federal government - monuments to the collective wisdom (and failings) of generations of leaders.  Somewhere along the freeway tucked just below the port tail surface, our youngest and her son drove to their beautiful home in Perry Hall.

In my quick four day adventure we visited our middle child (living with her husband in Silver Spring) and then met them at an Orioles game. While my beloved Rockies prepare for the off season relieved they will not lose one hundred games, Charm City's team took the field assured of a top spot in the playoffs. A packed house greeted us, a long line leading to that Camden Yards delicacy - a crab mac and cheese-smothered hot dog. Yes, it was decadent, with rich sauce and a sweet, tender, generous portion of the local blues. We took our seats, me next to three year old Graham. He ate his hot dog with gusto while his mom explained baseball to her older sister. After a Red Sox homer in the top of the first - "How many points is that?" the budding lawyer asked. Midway through the game another spectator turned and said "You two are amazingly funny!" Their infectious laughter and spirited banter warm a father's heart.

Too soon I was packing. After a trip to "FUNdamentals" where somersaults and bouncy houses offered a cornucopia of toddler delights we went home to prepare for my departure. But wait.... It was too soon to surrender to the inevitable.

An hour later my young grandson and I had read all of the license plates in the neighborhood. He led me by the hand, marching from one mailbox to the next, proudly calling out their numbers. We saw a helicopter, waved to the mail carrier and had a bit of a spill. We were away long enough that his mom texted, wondering where we had gone. 

All of that was disappearing behind me. The unseemliness of a grown man - a career police officer nearing retirement - sniffling at panoramic Maryland. But, they are hardly tears of sorrow. We have raised three fine children, who have met and married honorable people. After three wonderful grandsons (two of whom live in Greater Denver with our oldest and his wife) our youngest is poised to deliver a little girl - Greta James Gaffney. We pray for her every night. 

Four hours later I was safely home. I am, in every sense of the word, charmed.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Play Toys

New cat, new play toys. I think it says that in the pet owner's manual.

The three AM woofing - Portie CJ wants out. Maybe it's something she heard outside. Maybe her bladder is sending subtle reminders of the big gulps of just before bedtime water. Maybe the snoring (pick a suspect) bothers her and this is payback.

Of course everyone wants to go out. Even Gilda - her MARPAT-like coat would make her impossible to find in the dark. And what would the neighbors say, old man wandering the backyard in his underwear yelling "Goddammit, Gilda."

The commotion has awakened ancient Pap Radar, who bumper-cars underfoot. Letting him out means going out to get him - blind, deaf, incontinent and now internal radar on very low gain. What the.... But, improbably, he finds his way back to the door. Grabbing a fresh ace wrap and him takes a practiced hand, especially pre-dawn. Practice...yes.

It's happening and.... What is the end of the ace stuck on? Tugging only anchors it....

"Dammit Gilda! The end of the ace is not a play thing."

While unhooking the end from her tiger claws Radar wanders off and pees on the floor. The big dogs look on, sniff and amble off to bed.

I roll up the wrap and start off in pursuit of the tiny dog dribbling down the hallway. And step into a dog dish.

I have now become yet another source of amusement for the new cat.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

In Shirtsleeves

Courage is being scared to death... and saddling up anyway.

The honor of teaching in the police academy is humbling. Most of the young men and women sitting in the classroom were not born when I began my career in 1979. Several were beginning elementary school when I was promoted to sergeant. Teaching them - lending not just expertise but experience - is an honor and privilege.

Nothing compares, however, to the society with the experienced men and women who arrive to help. Many academy classes require role players and facilitators. These are people who do the grunt work, the down and dirty close quarter instruction. They look the recruits in the eye and pass on wisdom that only late nights facing danger teaches. That so many quality individuals have stepped forward to help speaks little about me, but a lot about them.

One in particular.... She was badly wounded recently, recovering through grit, determination and courage. Two of us were discussing shirts for my instructors when she ambled by, aluminum crutches in contrast to her colorful clothing. She paused.

"Can I get one that says 'I got shot and all I got was this lousy t-shirt?'" she asked.

Really, the men and women who surround me in this profession impress me beyond my meager attempts to describe them. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

"Congress Shall Make No Law..."

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." First Amendment to the United States Constitution, adopted December 15, 1791.

These words limit the power of government, expanding the natural right of a citizen to worship as they see fit, to speak and write as they please (especially in opposition to government) and to assemble in protest. The core values - protections against the overreach of Congress and the coercive power of government - reside in these words.

"Congress shall make no law...."

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Born To Be Hockey Players

"You were born to be hockey players, every one of you. You were meant to be here...tonight." USA head coach Herb Brooks, Lake Placid New York, 1980.

Noting the passing of Bob Suter, member of the 1980 gold medal-winning US hockey team.

In Upstate New York, winter usually began in late October. By Thanksgiving the ponds, and many of the smaller lakes, had frozen over. By Christmas there were few bodies of water that did not play host to sharp blades etching hard ice, wood clattering against rubber and adolescents trash talking while playing hockey. It was a rare day indeed that the sun did not set on a game, somewhere, a thirty-something mom announcing dinner and hoping her voice carried across the snow.

Everyone emulated a pro, adopted their nickname and envisioned hockey greatness. The Maple trees surrounding a pond were, of course, festooned with "Leaf fans." It was Maple Leaf Gardens - after a fashion - and we were playing before a standing room crowd. Vendors hawked "Hockey News and programs" as the inanimate fans looked down on us. Bundled against the cold, rudimentary equipment preventing significant injury, hours passed in the pale grey of northern winter. The score? Who knew.

Most of us progressed into organized hockey. Lucky ones found spots on the local high school team. The talented few advanced to college. Occasionally - someone made a living under the bright lights of the real Maple Leaf Gardens across Lake Ontario, Boston Gardens or one of the other rinks across the US and Canada.

So when the US hockey team - a conglomerate of college players - skated out to face the Soviet Union....

Defenseman Bob Suter was there, and played in that game. It is now called the Miracle on Ice, the moment when a collection of American college kids beat the mighty Soviets. And for a while  the "Leaf fans" looking over ponds across the US became Lake Placid ticket holders, witness to one of the great American sporting triumphs of the twentieth century.

Some of the players found their way into the NHL. Bob Suter did not. Those of us who grew up in the 60s and 70s chasing glory and a rubber disk on frozen ponds shared a kinship with him that is hard to explain. Our moms and dads sipped coffee at five AM games, put twenty-plus thousand miles on cars, sacrificing their needs to pay for the expensive equipment and disposable sticks. We played the game for the love of it, and on a winter day in February 1980 saw a collection of athletes who had grown up on snow-covered ponds and bitter rinks - as had we - win a hotly contested hockey game.

Deep meanings, geopolitics of the Cold War...? I suppose. Bob Suter played the game we loved. He played it exceptionally well. He was born to be a hockey player.

Just like us.

With deepest admiration.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Getting Coffee

Image result for coffee picturesThe weird dream held the promise of an entertaining blog. My employer – I think I was a detective at my current department – was holding a “flash fiction” contest. That is, a writer had five minutes to write...anything. I was, of course, the subject of some good-natured banter about delivering the goods since I am, you know, published. In the early morning moments of awareness I'd gotten a good start, something about camping with my family when I was young. I walked into a Panera Bread in Penfield, NY, the paragraphs forming in my mind as I bought coffee for my mom and I. My writing didn't survive first contact with the staff.

I was alone on the customer side of the register. The young woman on the “them” side looked blankly at me and then resumed a conversation with a coworker. The coworker, a tiny and cute twenty year old, announced that she was going to drive up to Watertown, a small city on the east end of Lake Ontario. In the summer it is picturesque, in a sort of old world brick and timber way.  During winter ( through April) cold winds blow giant sheets of misery over the region. The weather is euphemistically called "Lake effect." Not for nothing is the Tenth Mountain Division stationed nearby. My suggestion about making the trek before fall fell on deaf ears.

Their conversation turned to a Facebook picture of a mutual friend of theirs who wears his hair especially long. The woman waiting on me said “My ex had long hair and I made him cut it. Some guys look good with it but he didn't.” “It’s more the look that I like” Perky Twenty replied. “Not necessarily the guy.” They made no comment about my earring.

Behind me, a businessman ordered coffee. Did he want a tray? Did he have a Panera card? Here or to go?


John Pinette had it right. The Panera in Penfield can’t be the first place I go for coffee. Way too much going on.