Monday, October 26, 2015

Blame it on Sue

“Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.”
Groucho Marx, The Essential Groucho: Writings For By And About Groucho Marx  

Miracle was supposed to be my first novel. I'd gotten into writing accidentally, infuriated by the treatment a Colorado Springs journalist had received from his peers. I fired off the letter to the editor and forgot about it. It was cathartic - the guy from C Springs had done a great job for SWAT (I'll tell that story some other time). Of course, it got printed and that's where the fun began.

My wife pointed out a writing contest, of sorts. "Colorado Voices" is (was? Does it still exist?) a function of the Editorial page of the Denver Post. A group of people each year - average Coloradans looking to spread their wings a bit - compete for the opportunity to write a column every other week that is printed as if they are an actual columnist. It was a paying gig, too. Pat said "You should apply." Why not. I wrote the two samples, sent them off and returned to regularly scheduled programming, already in progress.

Sue O'Brien called a few weeks later. Well, I didn't know who she was, either. She said she was the editorial page editor for the Denver Post. She invited me to be part of the 2001 Colorado Voices writers. "This is an honor," I said.

Apparently I was unsatisfactorily effusive. "You're Goddamned right it is!" she growled. Thus, I was introduced to editors. I wrote six columns (seven, if you count the alumni one that attracted the attention of then Governor Bill Owens). I was hooked.

A conversation with a dear and trusted work friend began the very first manuscript. The main character would be a woman police sergeant. She would have a degree in journalism, and that would be the key to solving the mystery. My friend and I were involved in a computer project at the time, so computers would be key. I sat down, typed the title and began writing.

How does one write a novel? One keystroke at a time. Over the months, in the living room computer cubby, sitting at the dining room table or on the back porch, the Amy Painter novel evolved into a 150,000 word brute. Together with my writing coach and personal editor, romance novelist Terri Valentine (really), we cut it down to size and submitted it to various publishers and agents.

It went nowhere. Disappointed but not surprised, I wrote in a different direction, featuring a different main character, gaining the attention of the wonderful folks at Wild Child Publishing. Publisher Marci Baun has two (soon to be three) works for sale by "James A. Greer." Amy was still looking for a home.

The Tattered Cover book store, an indie with a huge following, will print an author's book for a modest price. I needed a cover, though. Wife Pat to the rescue. A work friend of hers, a delightful woman named Alison, agreed to  model SWAT gear and pose as Amy. It worked like a charm, professional photographer Heather Leider bringing out great facial expressions, one of which was perfect.

It went on sale this past weekend. How does it feel?

It feels like a whole lot of people helped me write this book. It was a learning experience that helped me attain a level sufficient for Wild Child to notice. Police officers were quick to offer help, stories and encouragement. I was the "Detective Harris" of LPD. It's a Barney Miller reference. But I digress.

I blame this whole thing on Sue (who passed away in 2003). Were it not for her encouragement and skill (we once re-wrote a column via cellphone while Katy and I watched the Rockies play) I would never have given writing a second thought. I found out later that hundreds of applications are received every year, that some people wait years before they make the grade. Well, no wonder...

Pat and I held a copy of Miracle the other day. We laughed, we got misty eyed - this had been a long road, taken together. But, if you're wondering if the hundreds of hours of work was worth it?

Damn right...huh, Sue?

Sunday, October 25, 2015

A Bud Man

“A ballplayer spends a good piece of his life gripping a baseball, and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”
Jim Bouton

George Will is a political writer, Fox News commentator and native Chicagoan. He has written on baseball several times, but this book is unique. It is about how Wrigley Field, the Wrigley family and fate (which he disputes) have conspired to keep the Cubs from having a winning tradition.

Wrigley is a bucket list venue. To "sit in the stands in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon" and watch a game, set against the ivy-covered outfield fence... It is to remember a special summer.

My kids were young. Beth had just turned two, and Katy was mere months old. I worked day watch, but had mid-weeks off - TWT, as I recall. Child care wasn't any cheaper (comparatively) than it is now, so watching the kids paid huge budgetary dividends.

We walked, we played, and we watched the Cubs on WGN. It was 1984, and the team from the corner of Clark and Addison was playing uncharacteristically great baseball. Beth watched in between other adventures, her sister Katy quietly soaking it up as she went from being stationary, to crawling as the season unfolded. Whatever Beth was doing stopped for the seventh inning stretch, the late Harry Carey singing (if you could call it that) "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" along with the thousands in Chicago, a million or so across the country. Beth and me. The games were sponsored, in part, by Budweiser. Beth would heartily proclaim, prompted by Carey's pitch, that she was a "Cub fan,and a Bud man."

The eddies and currents of life can be delightful. Beth's relationship with baseball has been casual over the years. Although she often intentionally feigns ignorance (a home run at Camden Yards in Baltimore elicited the question "How many points is that?" to her outraged sister) she is, in fact, still a fan. She and her husband have joined the crowd, sung "The Song" and rooted for the home team whenever she gets the chance.

And little Katy? A grown women with children of her own. She and I have shared a number of baseball games, keeping score and rooting on the Rockies, a sort of latter day west-of-the-Mississippi version of the often hapless Cubs. Her husband played college baseball, and worked for Anheuser Busch. I was with them when they took son Graham, and then daughter Greta to their first baseball games - Detroit for little G-man, and then Baltimore.

Will's book is written gently, almost reverently. He is a fan of the game, a lover of its nuances and subtleties. He has attained a stature sufficient to watch in the company of presidents, be they of the club on the field, or of the United States. He concluded his book in this manner:

"I began this rumination on Wrigley Field with the words of a poet. I will conclude with words from another one: 'Life is a long preparation for something that never happens.' Forlorn Cub fans waiting for a World Series may agree with William Butler Yeats, but what he wrote is not quite right.Life IS what happens, whatever it is. Anticipation of what happens next is part of the fun. And life, which has its ups and downs, is leavened by the pleasure of passing time now and then in nice places, like the little one on the North Side."

Which is for him, of course, Wrigley Field. For me, it is wherever wife, children and grandchildren venture, to sit together again and glory in anticipation of where the day, and our lives, will lead us.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Fix

Welcoming back Anton John - my friend AJ - to Bikecopblog. He reminds us that, while we are busy tending to the needs of our imperfect society, we must also look to our own needs. It is impossible for a law enforcement officer to give their everything when they don't tend to the things that matter most - self, family, friends. It is a cautionary tale, that to be effective one must spring from a position of strength. That strength really comes from one place...those who love us, and understnd that ours is a calling unlike most others.
"I come home from another shift alive with all my body parts. However, I'm on a 9 day straight work week. Yes, 5 days were training to be CIT (crisis intervention training) - great class!

But I look at my family doing things I should be a part of. So yes, my training came into play for most of my calls, which is great. But, who fixes my crisis of not being there for my family? It's a total cliche we are trained to fix everyone's problems, but who is there for our own inner battles?

I'm just ranting but maybe that's the way we have to do things in this job. I always say it, but... Don't take your family for granted.

Be safe."

To which "Dani Z" replied: "Dani Z's We know in your heart you would rather be with us but in our hearts we are so proud of you for the sacrifice you make to take care of others. We will always be home waiting for you.... Thank you and all LEO's for sacrificing to take care of people you don't know and caring for them."

Saturday, October 10, 2015

A Miracle, Indeed

The first Amy Painter novel proof is in hand. The released book will be available from the Tattered Cover for $15.95, from me for $12.50 (plus shipping, if applicable) or as an e-book, once I can figure out Amazon's rules. I'll sign it, if you want.

I'm assuming a release date in the latter half of October. I'll take pre-release orders at, and then let you know when the book is on the way.

To everyone who made this possible, especially my loving, supportive and long-suffering wife Pat - thank you is not nearly enough to express my heartfelt love and appreciation. This has been a long journey, but it was worth it.

G Ride

'Cars' was about Lightning McQueen learning to slow down and to enjoy life. The journey is the reward.
John Lasseter

I awoke uneasily, pondering a question that sought no answer. Not rhetorical, in the most literal sense. Not a "soup" question, either. Just...wondering.

We donated our faithful Isuzu Rodeo yesterday - signed over the title, filled out the forms and waited for the tow truck. My wife, who was the vehicle's primary driver during its heyday, had to remove the tags. She took photos as the thing was loaded onto the flatbed. When I got home, there was a parking space where the SUV had been.

We gave it to the March of Dimes, as thanks for the work that organization does to further the interests of preemies. Little Graham, the miracle boy, benefited from the research MoD funds, so it seemed the thing to do. We'd tried to sell the beast a few times, had offers that fell through (one coming as Pat removed the plates) but the money it brings will help figure out how to take sick little bundles weighing less than a glass of water and turn them into healthy boys and girls. That's okay with us.

The Rodeo had done the job, to the tune of one hundred eighty five thousand miles. We'd had it a short time before it got tagged in a parking lot, the asshole who did it driving away without a second thought. A hailstorm in South Dakota had it looking like a golf ball - having it repaired was interrupted by 9/11. Another hail storm beat it down again, but the stones hadn't melted at all when I needed its strength and 4X4 to drive one of the Porties to the vet for emergency treatment. It pulled our pop up all over the west. It became a "rental" when adult children visited from out of town. It broke down only once, something about a fuel pickup problem. Otherwise, it always got us there...and back again.

So I woke up this morning wondering...where had it landed yesterday? Transported, no doubt, to some tow yard, surrounded by wrecked cars, jumbled collections of parts and rust. I hope it finds a new home, that someone else will take it off road, to the store or on an adventure. And the money it brings?

Tell them Graham sends his regards.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Fading Into The Background

Well, here we are again. Another senseless mass shooting by an armed asshole. The only information that is confirmed is the number of victims and their names.

Predictably, partisans on both sides of the gun control argument have blown the dust off of their pet sayings, trotting them out for public consumption while the dead are still laying where they fell. It doesn't seem to matter what the facts are, or even that the facts are yet to be ascertained. Gun deaths mean whatever the speaker deems them to mean, regardless of the awful human suffering that results. "See, that's what I've been saying" uttered in hundred different ways, meaning essentially nothing.

America wants easy answers, and painless solutions to gun violence. If only we... What? I'm listening. What is your solution? Prohibit private ownership of firearms? Longer prison sentences for gun crimes?

Much is made about comparisons to other countries. Finland's statistics often come to the fore, their yearly gun deaths fewer than a hot weekend in Chicago. Australia apparently confiscated piles of guns in the not so distant past. Cast the net wide, examine other culture's laws and extrapolate them to us. Simple.

Sure. America has different laws because the American experience has been different. The Second Amendment was written, in part, to permit gun ownership as a check against tyranny. Whatever conclusion one draws in 2015 after yet another mass murder, it is an inescapable fact that the Founders believed the right to keep and bear arms was intertwined inextricably with individual freedom. Those who believe that "the greater good" trumps the liberty interests of free, law-abiding citizens may have a point, but their comforting saying conflicts with the Constitution adopted to govern the United States.

But, the Bill of Rights is not a suicide pact. Thomas Jefferson believed that the gift we were given - self-government - is handed to each generation to do with what they will. The Constitution doesn't belong to Jefferson, Hamilton or Washington. It belongs to us, and it is up to us to determine its parameters.

"A well regulated militia." Antonin Scalia thinks that guns can be regulated consistent with what the Framers believed were reasonable limitations. Nonsense. To semi-quote Big Pappy - This is our frickin' country, and no one is going to dictate our freedoms. Not even the stilled voices of a generation of geniuses who started this incredible journey now nearly two hundred forty years ago.

Well regulated. What does that mean? It has meant that felons may not legally purchase or possess firearms (pro tip - they do, anyway). It means that children can't have handguns without their parent's permission. "Gun free" zones (which may or may not be analogous with "shooting gallery) are legal, if not exactly sensible. The question of whether gun ownership is subject to regulation was answered before the ink was dry on the Constitution in 1789.

"A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it." A smattering of gun owners (and some individuals who are just plain contrarian) believe that no law restricting their right to purchase, possess and wield a firearm is legitimate. Others would restrict firearm possession to only those law enforcement or military actually engaged in their duties.The middle ground begs for its own advocates, but we are loathe to discuss what the middle might look like when posting stupid stuff on social media represents our version of "discussion" or "thought."

In Oregon, their Supreme Court recently ruled that a police officer may not ask a citizen lawfully detained if they are armed. In New York City, the ideologically adolescent mayor has severely limited the aggressive (and thoroughly legal) tactics employed by NYPD that made their city among the safest in the world. On the one hand, people scream for laws severely restricting gun ownership, and with their next breath express loathing for constitutionally-permissible tactics that produce proven results.

I am a simple street cop, trying to get to the end of my career in one piece. I'm game for any solutions. There is no indication, today, tomorrow or in the aftermath of the next mass murder, that Americans have the stomach to face facts - that there are some firearms too dangerous for the average person to own, and that some individuals have demonstrated their inability to keep and bear a salad fork, let alone a gun. There is zero hope that some persons, believing that cops are thugs, will ever understand that it is the energetic, effective enforcement by well trained officers of laws already in existence that make us all a little safer. Or, if you please, that gun right absolutists will ever agree that regulations on who and what do not foreshadow martial law and cattle cars headed for prison camps.

So, law enforcement will still practice the skills that end mass shootings while the casualty numbers are still in the teens. We will make the family notifications. We will sit and listen to the cell phones of the dead ring, as loved ones pray urgently that their family's greatest nightmare has not come to pass. And we will wonder when our fellow citizens will listen to us when we say...

Enough is enough. We need to talk. You...all of you...need to listen.