Thursday, December 31, 2015

Twenty Fifteen

Question: What ended in 2016?

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then let me flatter a few people. Twenty fifteen was a tough year personally. There is no need to recap - it's all been here. But...

We're happy and healthy, and so are the kids and grandkids. Bikecopblog hit forty kay visits, and has picked up a lot of new, consistent readers. Two more novels hit the "shelves," both of which are selling well. Got no complaints.

Happy New Year, from the cast here at Bikecopblog.

(Who did I flatter? That meme is from Ranger Up Military and MMA Apparel. And the "What ended in 2016" is a Facebook post that is actually "What ended in 1896?")

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Simple Gifts

Tis a gift to be simple, tis a gift to be free
Tis a gift to come down where you ought to be
And when we find ourselves in the place just right
we'll be in the valley of love and delight

1.5 oz Smirnoff� No. 21 Vodka
6 oz orange juice

(Crested Butte, CO): This was the first Christmas without either my mom or dad. My memories of many Christmas mornings past flooded into mind as I opened the box of gifts from our oldest daughter...

Our tiny three bedroom house in suburban Philadelphia fit a family of five in cozy comfort. It was the kind of boxy post-war structure meant to offer housing to returning vets, costing somewhere in the neighborhood of $5000, which worked out to a mortgage of perhaps $55 a month. We walked to school, and the nearby rec center, in blissful ignorance of what we now might believe was terrible danger. The moms were all home with toddlers.

Christmas was always more than just a few days off. We three sons had spent the better part of a month poring over the Sears and Roebucks Christmas catalog.  This tome of vivid color and hopeful possibility was our guide to the inevitable, unattainable list of gifts "Santa" might deem us worthy of receiving. We made so many trips through it that the spine would split, and the pages scatter.

Christmas Eve often found us at church. We would arrive home in time to put up the tree. We never decorated it - it was green and bare when mom and dad tucked us in. Dad would hang one of his old Marine Corps blankets in the hallway to shield prying little eyes from watching the festivities - of our parents trimming the tree, setting out gifts and, hopefully, shielding our tender ears from the purple language that inevitably resulted from toy assembly chores by a handy but impatient father.

In the morning, reluctantly and sleeplessly waiting until some appropriate pre-dawn moment, we were turned loose into a world of light and color and bliss. Mom and Dad would watch in loving amusement as we tore into the gifts.

Years, and a marriage, and children of my own, we assumed different holiday traditions. Yet, there was always one that remained, right up to the point that my father was gone, and my mother fading.

Every year, my mom bought me a screwdriver.

I don't really know how the tradition took hold. Apparently, as a child I was a tinkerer. I would take things apart and, often, put them back together correctly. Although any number of different tools might be required, it was the screwdriver that my mom settled upon.

This went on for decades - sometimes a high-quality precision instrument, sometimes a QVC gimmick. No matter how much they spent on other gifts, how old I became and how many of my own tools I had accumulated there was always a screwdriver.

Last year was the first time in over forty years that I did not receive one. It was a sign that the end was approaching for Mom. Our family would soon face a Christmas, and every one after, without her. When the time inevitably came, it left a hollow feeling inside.

This year I vowed to remember her even as we moved ahead as a family. We were spending Christmas in Crested Butte with our son, daughter-in-law and their two children. This was not so much an escape as the beginning of a different tradition.

So I opened the box from our daughter. Tucked inside a "tactical" Christmas stocking - a screwdriver. Christmas morning, celebrating with our son and his wife and children in their hotel suite, a carefully-wrapped package contained another screwdriver. This one a gift from a man who has truly become a son. It had been a conspiracy, the kids getting together and deciding that they would remember their grandmother with the gift of screwdrivers to their father. Arriving home from our trip - a third, from our youngest, whose kindness had come even as she remained attentive to her own family and their traditions. Each different...but the resulting tears of remembrance and love were the same for each.

It is truly the simple gifts that matter.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Not Death, but Life

 "My brother wants to know when he can get back to work. That's him -go, go, go." Meghan Lopez, sister of wounded Denver Police officer Tony Lopez.

Donald Trump would like to have a mandatory death penalty for individuals who murder police officers. I am, of course, opposed to murdering police officers. Leaving aside the death penalty debate (about which I am an unabashed hypocrite), if society would like to do something nice for law enforcement officers, they should examine what happens when one of us is injured in the line of duty.

Hollywood has left us with grave misconceptions about individuals who have survived gunshot wounds, especially those involving extremities. The wounded officer ties a bandana around the affected area and resumes his or her normal life, with nothing but a temporary limp to show for the experience. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The wounded officer has endured the trauma of an attempt on their life. They may wonder if they will die, right there in the street. They have, more than likely, had to face the possibility that they will never see loved ones again. But, somehow they made it.

Federal law has, in many ways, tied the hands of a department’s Human Resources office in the manner in which wounded officers are treated. For example, after a relatively short period they are placed on disability, initially the short term variety, which reduces their pay significantly. Although benefits at this point are tax-free there is still a deficit to make up.

Officers are sometimes prevented from re-engaging peers in the workplace when on a disability status, as opposed to “light duty.” It’s one thing to visit “the station,” but quite another to do something – anything – in the company of friends.

Eventually, the injured cop must prove all over again that they are fit to serve the community for which they almost gave their lives. There are medical exams, requalifying at the range (after weeks or months of enforced absence, without practice) and an obstacle course to run. Some organizations do not facilitate the officer’s preparation.

All of this is easily changed. With all due respect, an officer who is injured in the line of duty (especially one who is assaulted) did not smash a finger in a desk drawer. They deserve distinctive treatment because the nature and manner of their injury is different. You want to change federal law, Mr. Trump? 

Extend the period of time during which an officer receives a normal paycheck. Allow officers to perform casual duties in the workplace (at their own pace) while on injury leave. Create and maintain funds to defray transportation, child care and rehabilitative services while officers prepare to return to work. Make range instructors and personal trainers available so that the officer is ready to successfully complete the return-to-work tests.

It shouldn't be too hard to figure out what needs to be done. Ask any officer who has fought to return to duty. They will tell you what it took, how hard they struggled, and how the process could have worked for them, instead of against them. The military has done it. It's time for Federal law to catch up. Imagine, member of Congress, the great press generated by a hearing where police heroes tell their stories, and help you craft the Police Hero Rehabilitation Act.

I’ve been lucky. The injuries I’ve sustained in the line of duty have been minor. Some of my friends have not been so fortunate. We owe it to them to make sure they are treated as heroes, and returned to their place along the thin blue line.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Four Hundred and One

"You write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head. The first rule of writing is to write, not to think." William Forrester (Sean Connery), Finding Forrester, (2000).

Four hundred blog entries. With this one, four oh one.

Every one begun with the heart. Some - among the most popular with readers - never made it to my head. I've written some in deep despair and anguish. Others, were tendered in the shadowy aftermath of a duty death, one in particular that still stings. May I presume for a moment?

We, a faithful group of readers and I, have laughed together, cried together and held (in the most satisfying of virtual senses) each other in difficult moments. I have the the honor of being read by friends with whom I've shared decades, and some very special ones with whom I've shared a recent classroom.

I've tried to keep the law porn to a minimum, which (you must admit) is an impressive, if not entirely successful endeavor. I love writing about baseball, but the minuscule hits on those pieces... It is America's past time, right? The stray gadfly political efforts are done mostly knowing that some readers will agree, some disagree but most will pass, thank you. Probably a good plan.

Friend pieces were the easiest to write, and often the most fun. Ever the introvert, I have a small but loyal group, mostly associated with work, or bikes, or both. Coincidentally, they are the ones to whom I often turn when Karen, or Amy, or Cici are involved.

I've had so many opportunities to write about family. Some of it has been celebratory, while others  announced the passing of an irreplaceable parent. It has been those moments when readers have shown their greatest support, their kindest words and their respect for my loved ones.

In all of it, I owe a debt that I cannot repay. I write with my heart. You have allowed me to do that.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

From the Heart

"What would you do if I sang out of tune?
Would you stand up and walk out on me?"
"With a Little Help From My Friends," The Beatles, Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. (1967).

Release day.

A number of very famous, totally wealthy writers have written about writing.There are the successes, the funny stories about meeting this person or that person and, of course, what it was like on the movie set when the film based on their book was in production. Well, la-di-frickin'-da.

For a freelancer, release day brings a period of celebration unlike many others. Okay, the birth of my children (and the day my stepson took my last name) are better. Wedding days are totally important. But...

Release day means that others can experience the story over which the writer has slaved, toiled and wept. This is not just a novel. It is a labor of love.

My first published novel, Out of Ideas, took shape during a trip with a good friend to an airshow in Wisconsin. The story evolved before I had really decided on the characters. Karen Sorenson evolved, for the most part, as a melding of many of the strong women I've known. Once that book hit the "shelves" it was imperative that her story continue.

Our daughter Beth... Okay, this part of the story is a confluence of irony and fate. Beth is an attorney who has a private practice, in addition to working for an organization in DC. She's an extraordinary person, married to a veteran with multiple recent deployments. When she was in high school - a wild child. So when I was looking for a publisher and I saw "Wild Child Publishing. Break wild." What would it cost?

Marci Baun, the publisher, has been nothing but supportive. She offered a contract on a short story, then a novel. Then another.

Writing a novel takes a lot of focus, a degree of denial and a hide thick enough for an NFL football. The payoff? I'd love to make millions and retire to the Bahamas. But, in reality - The Heart of the Matter is a really good book. It says, about police women, exactly what I want it to say (and how many publishers will let that happen?). A lot of good people have helped make it happen along the way.

And, if a lot of someones buy it, I get to write something else.

Enjoy Karen's story. She's a very good friend.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Birthday Boy

I wrote about the little boy named Graham Patrick Gaffney several years ago, after he was nearly one. He'd been born early, and spent his first ten weeks in a NICU. At some point his mom, who is a gifted writer, will fully express the dread of a birth so dicey a nurse told her "Just because he's not crying doesn't mean he's dead."

He's five. He's in school. He thinks he wants to be a chef. For Christmas he'll get a bike jersey because that's what a bike cop buys one of his grandsons on his birthday.

Happy birthday, Graham.

Monday, December 7, 2015

One December Morning

Oahu residents were awakened, 74 years ago, to the sounds of warplanes, gunfire and explosions. Although Americans had been fighting and dying in the war against Axis aggression for several years, December 7th brought the attack that catapulted America "officially" into the war. Nearly three thousand people - soldiers, sailors, hospital personnel, civilians - lost their lives. Many of them fired the first shots of our war, and didn't live to see the world they helped make free.

Americans remember those sacrifices and struggles. In a sense, remembering that awful morning brings us closer to understanding just how vulnerable Americans felt. Much of the Pacific Fleet was in ruin, damaged or sunk, in the harbor. Half of our military aircraft stationed there were destroyed. An invasion, first of the Hawaiian Islands and then of the homeland itself, was not just theoretically possible but expected. It looked as though an irresistible force would soon overwhelm the West Coast.

President Roosevelt, unlimbering polished rhetorical flourishes appropriate for the occasion, called December 7th, 1941, "A date which will live in infamy." An enraged America went to work, and to war, with a single-minded purpose. Victory. Total, complete, unconditional victory.

Sixteen million Americans served in uniform. Nearly half a million died, some only now being found and returned home to their final rest. We were a country mobilized to fight, sacrifice being the word of the day.

Seventy years have passed since the instruments of surrender were signed on the deck of the battleship Missouri. Can we cherish the heroes, remember the sacrifices and be in awe of the courage without recalling the rage with which we greeted the surprise attack? Japan has been a trusted ally, valued trading partner and friend for nearly 70 years. In the many decades since WWII ended our countries have found peace with each other. Every day an airliner lifts off from Denver, raising its gear and pointing its nose west. The next time the pilots extend the landing wheels are as they prepare to land in Japan. Its cargo? Souls, going about their lives in glorious freedom. Every day of the week.

None of this is to devalue the horrors of our war with the Imperialists in Japan. It was ferocious, savage, with no quarter asked or extended. Americans died by the thousands for crumbling atolls whose names were barely known then, but are now etched forever in our history. The attack on Pearl Harbor signaled the start of a war so vicious its lesson - we must resolve our differences without slaughtering each other - has, between our countries, withstood the test of time.

I remember this day as one of honoring those Americans who fought, especially those who died, on a Sunday morning seventy-four years ago. Theirs was a battle, ultimately successful, to keep us safe, and free. At great cost our enemies were vanquished, the men who initiated the war of conquest gone forever. We bask in the blessings of liberty today because of those who fought there, as does so much of the rest of the world, including the men and women who are descendants of people we once called "enemy."

Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Sacred Promise

"Dave, I would have taken a bullet for you." Secret Service Agent Duane Stevenson (Ving Rhames), Dave (1993).

"Try to relax. I'll take a bullet before you do, that's for damn sure." San Bernadino officer to people he was shepherding to safety in the aftermath of a terrorist attack.

One, a work of fiction. The other, a cold and hard reality of what police officers have sworn to do.

In Colorado Springs, a gunman begins a shooting spree in the parking lot of a busy complex. Arriving officers come under fire. Several are hit, and one dies, but they continue to engage the shooter. Why? In San Bernadino, officers have possible terror suspects under surveillance after fourteen people are murdered. The heavily armed assholes jump into their vehicle, apparently intent on a second attack. Uniformed officers pursue them, resulting in a running gun battle that sees terrorists fire 76 rounds at the police, two of whom were wounded but they just keep coming. Why?

Someone once wrote that this is a terrible time to be a police officer. That could not be farther from the truth. Right now, our country, our society, our culture, needs people who are brave, skilled and  willing to confront evil, in whatever form it presents itself. America needs the men and women of law enforcement.

Cops have responded with honor.

A terrible time to be a cop? Not a chance. The best our country has to offer apply for cop jobs. The competition is fierce, the training is demanding. The pressure never lets up. Still, people of character arrive by the thousands. "Pick me, let me help." And when the alert tone sounds, and the mass casualty event takes place? Every officer available rushes to the scene, ready to do what has to be done.

Ready to take a bullet, if that keeps someone else alive.