Friday, August 28, 2015

School Days

Dear teacher, I talk no matter where I am. Moving my seat will not help. Kid Quotes.

I don't know why I remember this...

I was a month shy of four years old. For some reason I was standing at the corner of the fence that separated our front yard from the neighbor's side yard. They had a corner lot, their house faced - never mind. I was looking past a mature weeping willow tree toward the nearby T intersection. In 1958 it seemed a healthy distance, but when we drove down the street in 2004 it was a mere couple of car lengths.

A school bus had just accepted several children from our neighborhood. A woman...a mom...walked away as the folding door closed. In my mind's eye I can see her - tall and slender. She wore, at least according to a fifty-eight year old memory, dark Capris and a light blouse. Short, wavy hair in the fashion of the age, and she was crying. Hand over her mouth to stifle, or at least muffle, her sniffles. She wiped her eyes as she walked home. My mom commented "That will be you next year."

My mom was thirty one.

Our grandson Graham started Pre-K yesterday. In the pictures his mom sent he wore a huge grin, clutching a bag, and a name tag. She and Graham's dad dropped him off, intent on staying. Their little miracle boy let them know he'd be fine. So they left.

He came home full of stories to tell, of a new friend and an inside joke. He'd had adventures, interacted with people and enjoyed the better part of a day away from home. He had entered the next phase of his life.

His mom is thirty one.

The eddies of time are witness to experiences that transcend generational differences. Kids climb onto buses, or enter the front doors of their new schools with their faces looking forward. Behind them, the men and women who did so much to prepare them for those moments huddle and pause, hoping their children are ready to greet the world.

Meanwhile, grandparents allow a tear to escape, that all of the things they hoped for so many years ago have come to pass.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Todd's Echo

"Are you guys ready? Let's roll." Todd Beamer, passenger aboard Flight 93, over Pennsylvania. September 11, 2001.
"Spencer, go!" Alek Skarlatos, Oregon National Guardsman, to US Air Force member Spencer Stone, on board a train bound for Paris, August 21, 2015.

A terrorist boards a train, armed with an assault rifle, a handgun and almost a thousand rounds of ammunition. Shooting starts. Three friends - Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler - along with British citizen Chris Norman, rush the gunman.

Rush the gunman. Who does that? Said Norman "I could sit down and die, or stand up and die. I decided to stand up." Deprived of his firearms, the suspect attacks Stone with a box cutter, apparently the weapon of choice for assholes. Stone and his team beat him unconscious. Then, before seeking aid himself, Stone assists a gravely wounded passenger.

The sound of personal (and professional) hobby horses being galloped has taken on a life all it's own. There is no reason to indulge any of them.

Four men demonstrated courage and honor in the highest traditions of... Human beings. Regardless of where they live, who trained them or how they came by the temperament they put into play, they were the right people, in the right place at the right time. Perhaps hundreds owe their lives to them. Stone emerged from a hospital today, bandaged, with a gentle smile. "Big, strong guys," his mom said of him and his friend Alek.

Sadler's father commented "My son left a young man on a trip with his friends. He'll come home a national hero in France. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around that."

Take all the time you need, sir. Your son and his friends, with the help of Brit Norman, did it right.

Rehearsal Dinner

"Where I'll be when it's said and done." Back Where I Come From, Mac MacAnally (Simple Life, 1990).

Said and done.

The end of my police career isn't approaching any faster than it did when I first put bullets into a handgun and reported for duty on May 1, 1979. The calendar ticks over one day at a time, measured now by tasks completed as much as by minutes passing, or calls answered. The sense of "where did it all go" is less compelling than the hope I'll have said everything I came to say, and have done what I intended to do with my career. I feel this most acutely when I'm around my children, and grand children.

Some weeks ago it was popcorn and a movie with our oldest grandson. He lives with his mom, dad and brother, in a town close enough that evening baseball, weekend basketball and the occasional visit to the cinema can be arranged with little notice.

Visiting the girls, and the Baltimore gandkids takes more effort, more planning. Last weekend, we hopped on a brand new Frontier A319 (lightweight, ergonomic seats and teeny tiny "tray"), rented a car and...


At some point, it'll have been said and done. Others will step up. Our time will not revolve around the needs of an employer. We were afforded a glimpse of that life this week, of long stretches in close (not too close, kids. Don't freak) proximity to the things that matter. We can finally allow the near, and the far, to be all consuming. We can pack up the animals, hitch a trailer to the truck and stay somewhere close to the wonderful adults we call "kids." The air of casual we struggle for on short visits can become reality, the sense that good bye is temporary, today. Tomorrow is a new day, a time to explore anew on grandkid time, through grandkid eyes. We can structure a day around the evening baseball game in Broomfield, not race up wolfing down MacDonald's and hoping the traffic isn't too bad.

After, of course, it is finally said and done.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Cancel the Whaaaa-mbulance

Kid driving convertible, dropping off baseball player:
Kid: What's your rush, dollbody? What do you say we slip in the back seat, and make a man out of me?
Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis): What do you say I smack you around for a while?
Kid: Can't we do both?

A League of Their Own (1992)

I read an article today, about police work, its challenges, and the current lexicon that has us being "Guardians" instead of "Warriors." Let's set that aside for the moment. A consultant, a man I know and admire, is quoted at the end saying "It's a tough time to be a cop." I beg to differ.

It's a fabulous time to be a cop.

Law enforcement, as a whole, has never been as professional as we are in 2015. People we would have considered standard in 1979 (the year I was first hired) probably wouldn't be considered for employment now. I was a rarity - I had a college degree. At the academy where I work nearly all the newbies have at least a bachelors degree. Several have Master's degrees.

Officers are better trained before they ever set foot in a police car. I was turned loose to work solo after three weeks of field training - and it was six weeks later that I attended the police academy. At my second department, I began classroom instruction in late June and by Thanksgiving I had completed both the academic portion and field training. The recruits I serve started in mid-July, and will finish classes around Christmas. They will still have sixteen weeks of field training to endure. They will not be certified for solo duty until spring.

We draw from an impressive pool of people. Many of the inspiring young men and women have military experience. Some have seen combat. Several were college athletes. Some came from professions such as banking, teaching or business. Many have been supervisors. Police work attracts bright men and women from every walk of life - every one. They all arrive with the same goal - to serve.

Anyone can do a job that is easy. Being a law enforcement officer today is hard. But, to quote another line from A League of Their Own, it's the hard that makes it great. The men and women in uniform take a great deal of pride in doing their jobs well. And they do them exceptionally well. For every time someone in our profession stumbles, there are dozens more where cops faced grave danger ("is there another kind?") and resolved the situation without resorting to force, let alone deadly force. Training to deal with individuals having mental health issues isn't new - I've been CIT trained for nearly 15 years. Negotiating with armed individuals? Crisis negotiators are integral parts of SWAT, and have been for thirty years. Shoot at everyone who points a gun? I personally know of three times recently where officers took cover and started talking, including one where I was present. I ended up hiding behind a tree.

So what of this notion that we are guardians, not warriors? It is very much like any other aspect of law enforcement done right. What is the correct tool for the occasion? A bullhorn, a battering ram or a pat on the back? A smile? A frown? The officer giving the little kid money so he can buy a burger can be confronted soon after by an armed asshole, and need to summon everything he knows about surviving deadly force encounters.

Which happened in San Diego. In that case, the officer lost. He was murdered.

The "pendulum" has not swung in our favor as of late. Happens. Some good will come out of it - new ideas, better training, maybe some renewed emphasis on rewarding the really good work that often goes unnoticed. Good people will stick around, and, as always, ask:

"How can I help?"

In the meantime, no one I know of is summoning the whaaaa-mbulance.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

In Another Life

Choosing how you vote should not be a snap verdict based on a few minutes of television.
Simon Cowell

The Aurora verdict is in - life in prison. Given the swiftness of the jury's action at every phase of their deliberations, I expected the death penalty. One juror did not see it that way, and could not be persuaded
otherwise. Colorado law is clear on what happens next.

I did not follow the trial closely. Aurora police officers had obviously arrested the right guy. It seemed a foregone conclusion that the murderer would not be ruled insane during the guilt phase (he did too many "rational" things over too long a period of time). The acts themselves seemed also to contain many of the aggravators necessary for the death penalty to be appropriate. Finally, an intentional act of mass murder seems to merit the highest penalty our state allows and, in this case, would be just.

One juror saw it that way right up to the final decision. He/she could not put their name to another killing, albeit one in which the due process requirements of our culture had been faithfully met. What should we think about it? Since I didn't spend a lot of time with this case, let me defer to two very bright women who did - my daughter and my wife.

Paraphrasing (their opinions are similar enough to conflate): The judge was excellent. He maintained control of the courtroom, held the lawyers in check and allowed the evidence to unfold as it should. The lawyers themselves were exceptional advocates for their positions. Each of them "played with chalk on their cleats." That is, they used the full extent of the law, and then some, trying to persuade the jury to see the facts their way. The jurors were attentive, and they took their oaths seriously. 

We will learn as the days go by facts which may reflect on the ultimate decision. We might find, for example, that the lone juror was never going to have a hand in a death sentence, no matter the evidence before them. We might hear of interpersonal friction among the members. We will endure the solemn protestations that we could have had this verdict as a plea agreement and saved the taxpayers millions (Sure. Put yourself in the prosecutor's place for that one).

One person, a citizen of our state, could not, in good conscience, vote for the death of another human being, regardless of how reprehensible his act. Committing him to die a natural death (or a violent one at the hands of a fellow inmate) behind bars was...just. In the end, after a fair trial, this was the considered judgment of a jury. May they now go in peace, having done their duty as citizens, with our respect.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Three Whiskey Sours

The casual conversation with the neighbors over glasses of wine turned to books. He travels, has a lot of plane time on his hands, and reads a lot. He was kind enough to ask when my next work is due (soon) and then started talking about the last book he finished. It is called The Martian, written by Andy Weir. We'd seen a preview for the movie version soon to be released. I decided to give it a try.

Holy crap.

Mr. Weir is a relatively new author, in the sense that his notable works are... Well, The Martian. It began as a story on his web site, released one chapter at a time. Apparently, agents and publishers didn't want his other stuff, so he didn't bother them with this one. Friends asked Weir if there was a way to get it in a version compatible with a Kindle. Weir had it published on Amazon, cost $.99. It sold 35,000 copies in three months. Naturally, this caught someone's attention. It is now twelfth on the NYT best seller list for fiction, and, as I said, will soon be released as a major motion picture. He writes with a sense of humor, a flair for detail a la Clancy (the guy is a computer programmer in real...I guess now his former life), and he knows how to tell a story. His main character is in dire straits, and is worried. Scared shitless, I think he wrote. The guys asks himself what an Apollo astronaut would do.

"He'd drink three whiskey sours, drive his Corvette to the launch pad, then fly to the Moon in a command module smaller than my Rover. Man those guys were cool."

Envious? Hell, no. This is the kind of thing that sends all of us back to our laptops, cranking stuff out against the day it happens to us. It is a feel good tale, a little guy who does it on his own and rings the frickin bell.

You, sir, are a steely-eyed missile man.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

A Fine Football Team

"Of course, we do have a fahn football club, with some fahn football players on this fahn football team." Any football coach, responding to any question about his football team.

Reporter to losing coach: "How about your team's execution?"
Coach: "That's actually a fine idea."

The radio in the unmarked car I drive was set to sports talk. I decided to listen, in case they discussed why the Rockies traded Tulo. Not that it rocked my world much - but my replica Rockies jersey has "Tulowitzki" on the back. I suppose it's like a change in music format - "Guess I'll have to buy the White Album again." But, I digress.

Some sports guys were interviewing new Bronco head coach Gary Kubiak. Now, Coach Kubiak is no stranger to Denver, having played as John Elway's backup for years, and then becoming the offensive coordinator. Even though he'd moved on to other venues, it wasn't like this was a new city.

It also isn't like Denver's press corps is especially hostile when it comes to the Broncos. Come to think of it, right this very second there is nothing to be hostile about. Training camp, such as it is, has barely started. And, as much of it as I understand, there really isn't an off season any more. Players stay in shape, work out together and the team hosts "mini-camps" to make sure no one has forgotten how many pounds per square inch of pressure belongs inside the football.

Okay, that's not fair. Most football players are pretty bright because the game has changed since the days I rooted for Sonny Jurgensen, Tommy MacDonald and the Philadelphia Eagles. "Gimme the damn ball and get out of the way" has changed to multiple formations designed to confuse the other team into throwing an interception at the three foot line...yard. The one yard line. But, again I digress.

So Coach Kubiak is being asked about his routine, now that football season has "begun." It is, apparently, daunting. It requires multiple cups of coffee to get his heart started. "How many?" he is asked.

"Well, you know, that's kind of situational."

Huh? Would a collective gasp emanate from Dove Valley...sorry, the UCHealth Training Center...were the outside world to know the precise number of cups of joe Gary Kubiak ingests? Instead of "Omaha" is this year's cadence call going to be "Peaberry?" But, wait! He's then asked what time he gets up in the morning, now that camp is underway.

"Of course, we do have a fine football club, with a fine staff."


 Coach Kubiak has a fine future in politics. I turned the channel to classic rock.