Grumpy Old Man Laments at Large

At fifteen months and counting, our long national nightmare may soon be over. With the POTUS electoral season finally and mercifully grinding to a close, can normal people (you are out there, I know it) hope to soon breathe a weary sigh of relief? Now I promise to avoid cheering on a particular candidate or excoriating the opponent and his / her supporters as flakes, bigots, bleeding hearts, racists, troglodytes or effete elitists. (Well, maybe the elites will get knocked around some.) I respect your intelligence here and am pretty sure that at this stage, most folks have made up their minds to vote for this one, that one, the other one, or no one. Like good soldiers facing Armageddon, we choose our ground in anticipation of the final onslaught.

But what I do wonder at and heartily criticize is how the Democrat and Republican parties have devolved to such a regrettable state to have belched up the only two candidates in America who could possibly loose to the other one. Surely, this very same thought has crossed your mind at some point?

The party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Regan has become the party of bigotry, fear and war mongering. Not to be outdone, the party of FDR, Harry Truman and LBJ, long ago abandoned its tradition of standing up for the working people and the middle class and now answers to the whims of well-educated, elitist snobs and narrow special interests. It has its hawks as well; with our current President bringing the war on terror into its second decade, continuing our efforts to demonstrate to those who disagree with us our resolve and moral superiority as we bomb them in hopes they stop hating us.

Both parties are polluted by money; big money, bad money and grubby money. Republicans have always been seen as the party of the wealthy, but if you have been paying attention, you can’t help but see that the Democratic Party can match them buck for buck and then some. As of October 19, the Clinton campaign has raised $753 million to the Trump campaign total of a mere $372 million. The Boston Globe reported that campaign donations to Hillary Clinton from Wall Street interests approach sixty million dollars with another twenty-eight million thrown in from lobbyists and lawyers. God only knows how much the Donald has hustled from this crowd, but one would think that lawyers, lobbyists and Wall Street fixers would have to be tapped out by now. In either case, these donations surely aren’t made to represent the interests of the average American like you and me.

How did this come to pass? In our America, corporations have long been afforded the rights of people, but more disturbing is the reality that money has now been judicially affirmed as a form of free speech by the Supreme Court. This has allowed Political Action Committees of the super variety to line the pockets and pocketbooks of candidates with cash raised from those looking for power and influence in the service of their particular interest. It’s a story as old as the hills; money goes to money, and those with it not only want to keep it, but crave more of it. Those without it remain so. Period.

In the good old days, the captains of industry who ran the world had at least a tacit understanding that it wasn’t always the best idea to keep all profits for themselves, and that sharing some of it with those who actually did the work to create it was a wise concept. There were also strong labor unions to remind them of this and labor laws to compel a more level playing field. Then along came The Gipper in the 1980’s who took on and destroyed the Air Traffic Controllers union, deregulated the airline industry and tipped the precarious slope of the labor – management relationship. This was welcomed by those who saw organized labor as a problem, as often it was. However, unions existed as the pesky necessity giving those holding onto messy end of the stick a lift toward a better, more secure life with things like pensions and health insurance.

But if The Great Communicator fired the starter’s pistol in the race toward the bottom, it was The New Democrat from Hope who unleashed The Furies that brought the average Joe to his knees. When Bill Clinton was President, he worked doubly hard to see that the Bush – generated North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement met with congressional approval. Seeking the grand bargain with a skeptical congress, Clinton sold the idea as good for the American consumer and maybe the American worker too. Fueled by the explosion of internet technology,  it was mostly good for a new generation of robber barons who saw it as an opportunity to increase profits by moving manufacturing and labor costs overseas at will. But hey, we got to import more items of cheap, plastic junk made by exploited and underpaid, third-world workers. What was not to like?

Bill didn’t stop there, though. If NAFTA and trade deregulation was such a good thing, then why not try some on the banks?  With support and encouragement from anyone looking to profit from looser banking rules, or no rules at all, he succeeded in allowing banks free rein to create their own rules of engagement, commence on a binge of mergers and acquisitions and create such exciting financial products as derivative investments and sub-prime mortgages. The banks were encouraged to lend, lend, and lend some more. Nearly anyone who wanted a mortgage could get one, as home ownership was part of the American Dream. The inability to pay the mortgage back was deemed irrelevant. Property values would always increase beyond the mortgage obligation and their rise to ridiculous levels was seen as a good and permanent state of affairs. And if things suddenly turned sour, Uncle Sam (read average American taxpayer) would always be there to bail out the banks anyway.

Companies dumped pension programs – long the holy grail of the working class, and forced employees to instead enroll in 401K retirement plans. These monies were invested in the stock market with the encouragement of commissioned “investment advisors,” who promised never-ending double digit returns. If the stock market burped once in a while, not to worry, it was only a temporary adjustment that would right itself in the long run.

Let’s face it. Most of us were as were lulled into a belief that the world was a more peaceful place and prosperity would never end. The Cold War had thawed, the Berlin Wall had tumbled down and the Soviet Union was swept into The Gipper’s “Dustbin of History.” The peace dividend would carry us all into a new prosperity. We had reached “The End of History,” with a best-selling book by that title to prove it.

We ignored a serious warning when the Dot-Com bubble burst sending the economy into recession. But lots happened during those times and the following decades to distract our attention. Clinton’s Impeachment for fibbing about a Saturday session with Monica, the “Hanging Chad” election of G.W. Bush, the terrible and endless tragedy of 9-11 and the War on Terror. Add in the fights over gay rights, gun rights, immigration, etc, etc. Warnings by some that the banks were a mess and about to implode were ignored by the political class. Then in 2008 came the financial crisis followed by The Great Recession, which was only great if you were a bank deemed “To large to fail.”

If you owned a home mortgaged above its suddenly deflated value, you weren’t too large to fail. If you had lost your job as a result of the economic times and could no longer make the payments, or if all of the hard-earned money in your 401K lost half or more of it’s value just as you were going to retire,too bad for you. Thousands of Americans suffered foreclosures, bankruptcies, lost savings and destroyed credit. The term “Toxic Assets” entered the American  lexicon as the finger of blame was rightly pointed toward super-sized banks, insurance companies and the pigs of Wall Street. Much harrumphing was heard from politicians and a new President, Barack Obama was elected on the hope of straightening out the mess and holding accountable those responsible.

I eagerly anticipated watching a parade of the thieves and hustlers who had placed the economy in the toilet being led up to the scaffold to dangle from the gibbet of the people’s justice. I’m still waiting. Rather then appoint honest reformers and tough-minded realists, Obama filled his original cabinet with charter members of the financial class, associates of the very people who had robbed the economy. Naturally, they were reluctant to see their friends hang and instead preached a tone of moderation. The Justice Department commenced a grand total of just one prosecution of a Wall Street huckster, with that guy getting thirty months in the Fed.

The growing income inequality in America has been reported and talked about ad- nauseam, but to what end? It seems that people have adjusted to lowered expectations, higher debt, less secure jobs and fewer benefits. How many working people are now “exempt, at-will” employees or required to sign non-compete or confidentiality agreements, or any other variation? In America today, a mere 11% are members of some type of labor union. Workers simply have no clout in today’s economy, and aren’t likely to regain much soon.

Always fearful of labor and scornful of unions, Republican politicians and their ditto-head spokespeople decry the sad state of the recovery and offer only the same old tired bromides that tax cuts for the rich and corporations will cure the malaise and raise all boats. Traditionally impressed by the power of property over the power of people, their instinct leads them to side with the former. Although they tout the advantages of a capitalistic economy based on freedom and competition, they prefer deregulation and the elimination of rules which might adversely impact the established wealthy.

Ironically, they have been perversely eclipsed in these beliefs by the rise of the new Democratic true-believers. This knowledge class of well-educated technocrats, professionals, bankers, investors etc., have benefited tremendously in their selected fields from deregulation and the reluctance of the government to even attempt to employ existing anti-trust laws. They have created monopolistic systems of financing, insurance, health care, delivery of consumer goods, energy and communication. They are not interested in the idea of a level playing field and competition, but know that the key to success in the new American economy is the re-establishment of monopolistic control of their enterprises. Labor leaders are not counted among their friends.

Socially liberal, they voice support for issues of civil rights and progressive idealism, provided that it doesn’t impact their ever-increasing wealth and influence. They know instinctively that they are right, and insist that you understand this too. They speak mostly to themselves and bask in the reflections of their righteousness. They swoon in the presence of Democratic leaders like the Clinton’s and Obama’s, but turn an eventual cold shoulder toward someone like Bernie Sanders who might challenge the hypocrisy of their self-proclaimed virtue in the face of their wealth and the influence that it brings.

Because of this troubling reality, the middle class, at least those traditionally seen as “working people” and not necessarily college educated, have nowhere to go now, no party to call home. They wind up disaffected and lost, or seeking some type of voice in things like the hollow promise of the Tea Party or the shrill accusations of a Sarah Palin. All of this leads to a growing segment of our population who are economically stagnated and increasingly powerless to change their circumstances. At more that 324 million people, the United States is far too large to long endure such wide swaths of economically depressed people.

I still believe that on the whole, the economic system of capitalism, when properly restrained by a system of checks and balances, remains the best and fairest system of creating and distributing wealth. When those checks and balances are undermined or outright eliminated, the natural tendency of the rich and powerful toward greed and ceaseless accumulation take hold and accelerate.A new breed of hyper-capitalists are at large, people who show more interest in their wealth and power than to their country or the citizens who make our nation whole. This is what challenges democracy and the future of the United States. I wish I could offer an answer to this, but I fear that we must first go through the fire of the next big downturn or another disaster that leads to some sort of reawakening. Sadly, I conclude that our challenges will not be cured in any way by this election.

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The Celebrated Opinions and Outrageous Observations of Cantankerous A. Hole – Part Three.

“Nice work, Dubber,” Chet said between chomps on an apple fritter. The partners were celebrating Cant’s return to active duty at Zygmut’s Bakery.

“I like the way you made that dickweed roll over and admit you to that godforsaken ivory tower.”

“Well, I gotta earn my way from now on in,” Can’t replied.

He looked up from a copy of Thomas Szasz’ The Manufacture of Madness. “Between readings, research papers, class lectures, independent research and all the other happy horse shit that they want, I’m gonna be straight out for the next few of years.”

“I know you’re a friggin’ genius and all,” Chet belched. “But how you gonna manage this working full-time?” It ain’t like the rats are gonna quit doin’ crime just to accommodate your academic schedule.”

Can’t shrugged. “I dunno. I’ll just try to do the best I can. What else can I do?”

Chet struck a contemplative pose. “Look, if this shit means that much to you, I’ll take the wheel from now on so you can get your book time in.”

“Really? You’d do that?” Can’t said.

“Why not? It isn’t every flat foot got a genius for a partner.”

With the matter settled, Chet motioned to Zygmut and said, “Now let’s get McCracken his sinker so he can have sex with himself.”

Chet turned out to be a remarkable wheel man. He didn’t recognize red lights, had no idea what the word “yield” implied and when it came to high-speed pursuits, never exceeded thirty-five miles per hour. Better still, he knew every back alley, short cut, pigeon coop and dead air spot in the district.

“Don’t worry, Dubber,” he’d say. “If they really need us, they’ll find us.”

Can’t nodded appreciatively and took full advantage of the freedom afforded by his co-pilot seat. He read voluminously, underlined ferociously and annotated unceasingly.

“Freud was such a fraud,” he concluded one night to Chet.

“How so, Dubber?” Chet yawned.

“His main thesis on the source on human anxiety rests solely upon the unresolved conflict between children and their mothers. Good Lord, even Piaget recognizes that the development of the human psyche is predicated upon the successful navigation of the stages of growth.”

“Indubitably,” Chet intoned, underscoring his concurrence with a loud fart.

“Lemme ask you this, Dubber. In all of this shit you’re reading, does anyone have an answer to what it’s all about?”

Can’t gazed out toward the dumpster they were parked behind and replied, “I think that the Existentialists have the most definitive answer.”

“Oh, yeah? What might that be?”

“That there is no answer.”

“Dubber,” Chet asked. “How much are you paying these mopes at Harvard?”

In spite of Chet’s misgivings, Can’t was enthralled by his education at Harvard. The academic rigor, exposure to such psychological luminaries as B.F. Skinner, Eric Fromm, Carl Jung, W.B. Mason and Pink Floyd, stimulated his frontal lobes and challenged his constipated world view beyond the polluted banks of Chelsea Creek.

It was around this time that The Mets got a new Superintendent – Bill Bratton, later of NYPD fame. This super wanted to change the staid image of the force. Out went the classic green and white cruisers with “M.D.C. Police” stenciled on the door. In came flashy, new, white and blue rides with Metro Police emblazoned along the entire side of the cruiser. The two-tone uniform shirts were replaced with standard dark blue worn by big city cops. Chet liked this change, claiming the darker uniforms gave his chunky figure a svelte contour. Worst of all though; a new radio system eliminated all dead spots, stripping the partner’s of their hitherto pockets of cozy radio silence.

Can’t also learned that his father was now in failing health. The two hadn’t spoken since the wedding debacle with his sister and Can’t still carried a trunk full of resentment toward his old man. However, now older and a little wiser himself, Can’t decided to see his father and set the record straight between them.

On a gloomy Monday morning, Can’t walked into the sterile nursing home where his father lay staring out at the empty parking lot. The visit was awkward at first, with Can’t pointing the finger of infidelity at Rabbit. Cant’s father nodded thoughtfully, acknowledging the hurt that he had caused his family.

“Well son,” Rabbit began. “It was lonely in The Berkshires without you and your mother. One fine spring day I was tooling around on the Indian when I noticed a woman weeding in an onion field. We got to talking and she told me her name was Violet.” Rabbit swallowed hard as he continued, “Well, we kept on seeing each other and one thing led to another and before we knew it, Violet was in bloom.”

Looking away, Rabbit lamented, “I’m not proud of how I behaved, Cantankerous. You and your mother deserved better from me.” Seeing Cant’s tear filled eyes, Rabbit said, “What I learned through all of it, I ain’t proud to say,” Rabbit lamented.

“What’s that?”

“I was a phony, Cantankerous. I tried to be someone I wasn’t. There I was, riding around on my loud motorcycle, thinking I was some kind of knight in shining armor, when my true self was an onion farmer from Danvers. A horny onion farmer perhaps, but an onion farmer nonetheless.”

“So what are you trying to say?” Can’t asked.

“You can only be yourself, Cantankerous. Anything else is beneath you.”

Can’t lowered his head as his father imparted the wisdom of the ages.

“I hear that you are going to Harvard now and feel ashamed to reveal your chosen profession to the others there. I say screw em’. Let it all hang out.”

The visit ended on a tender note with Rabbit telling his son, “Sorry about the mix up with your sister, Cantankerous. I guess you dodged a bullet on that one.”

“You’re telling me.”

 

So, a few more years passed, and in spite of the change in the department, the partners soldiered on in The Colony. Can’t was closing in on his degree and busily researching his graduate thesis. The front seat of the cruiser resembled a bookstore, with the latest tomes of Cant’s interest interspersed among index cards, research reports and wrappers from Sullivan’s Dog Stand.

One night, the partners were dispatched to a disturbance at an apartment off of Day Boulevard. Pulling up out front, Chet said, “Sit tight, Dubber. I’ll handle this. I see you got more genius work to do.”

“You sure?” Can’t asked.

“Yeah. Stick your nose back in that book. I’ll shout if I need ya.”

Can’t watched his partner lumber into the darkness. He returned to Fromm’s The Art of Being, After several minutes, Chet emerged back onto the sidewalk. Can’t looked up and saw his partner turn into an adjacent alley. Aroused, Can’t dropped Fromm on the floor just as the sound of several gunshots blasted the night stillness.

Can’t reached under the seat and grabbing the sawed-off, rushed from the cruiser to the sound of the gunshots.

Peering around the corner, Can’t saw shadows move in the darkness of the alleyway.

“Chet,” he whispered. “You all right?”

“Watch it Dubber,” Chet’s voice called from the darkness. “The fuckers at the end of the alley and he has a gun.’

Can’t cocked both barrels. “Come on out, you prick. Or I’ll blast you into next year,” Can’t yelled.

More shots rang out, missing Cant’s head by inches. He pointed the sawed-off down range and squeezed one off in the direction of the muzzle flash. But unfamiliar with the sensitivity of the deadly weapon, Can’t inadvertently jerked both triggers, creating a huge explosion of 12 gauge firepower.

Smoke filled the alleyway and the noise was deafening. Knocked on his ass by the recoil, Can’t low-crawled toward where he thought his partner was located.

More shots rang out, followed by the sound of someone running away. Can’t found Chet on the ground behind a pile of old crates.

“Chet. You Okay?” Can’t panted.

“I was, till you shot me in the ass, you moron.”

Bending over his wounded partner, Can’t checked Chet’s backside.

“Oh, no! I didn’t mean to. The sawed-off shot wide.”

“They do that, Dubber. That’s the reason that you don’t try to shoot over your partner. Now get me the hell out of here before I shoot you”

“I think the guy ran off,” Can’t said.

Grunting in pain, Chet replied, “Look Dubber, stick that sawed-off back in the cruiser before everyone gets here. Having one of those things is a felony. Hide it under the Boston Globe editorial page. No cop will go near that rag.”

As Can’t rose to return to the cruiser, Chat said, “Hold on. Pull your piece and let off a few rounds.”

“Why, Chet?”

“Well, genius, when the brass shows up, we can’t let on that you shot me in the ass with an illegal shotgun, can we? We’ll say that the bad guy got me with a ricochet as you shot it out with him.”

Seeing the wisdom of Chet’s analysis, Can’t pulled his .38 and fired at some trash cans stacked at the end of the alley. As he was holstering, he heard, “Uggghhh,” as someone stumbled from behind the cans and fell to the ground.

Chet said, “Oh shit. This won’t end well.”

The partners approached cautiously, the sound of a hundred police car sirens piecing the night air.

Can’t switched on his flashlight. Looking down at the lifeless form of a plug-ugly with a Browning Hi-Power clutched in his left hand, the partners exclaimed simultaneously, “Trigger Finger Finnegan!”

The decedent was a notorious enforcer of The Winter Hill Civic Improvement Society, who incidentally had been fingered for the murder of Poor Looser. Warrants for Murder One had been handed out years ago, but Trigger Finger had always managed to escape the grip of justice. Until now.

“Perfect, Dubber. Now you’re a hero instead of a murderer. Quick, put the sawed-off down next to Trigger Finger and grab that Browning.”

Can’t followed the beauty of his partner’s quick-witted wisdom. As hoards of back-up cops rushed into the alley eager to shoot anything that moved, he scooped the nine millimeter and placed the shotgun into Trigger Fingers rapidly cooling, dead hands. Chet called out, “Stand down boys, my partners taken care of everything.” Then Chet passed out from shock and fell to the ground.

The “Brass” was skeptical of the partner’s version of the event from the get-go. Chet told them that after clearing the disturbance call, they had been attracted to suspicious activity in the alley (Half true). Entering the alley, they announced their lawful presence only to be fired upon by Trigger Finger Finnegan; who, desperate not to be taken alive and armed with an illegal shotgun, had injured Chet (One quarter true). Can’t identified the location of the shooter and disregarding his own safety, left cover, charged forward and firing his puny thirty-eight, nailed Trigger Finger and saved his partners life (Total bullshit).

The Boston papers fell for the story hook, line and sinker. A photo of Chet convalescing at Mass General, his loyal partner at his side, created a public groundswell of support. This was enough to cower the Brass, who collectively pulled in their horns and joined the parade of hero-worshipers. Especially after a photo depicting Governor Dukakis and Senate President Bulger visiting the injured warrior ran nationwide. There was the Governor, grinning his toothy grin and presenting Chet with a plate of homemade Baklava to speed his recovery. The impish Senate President, cheeks polished to a hi-gloss finish, offered a gift on behalf of his appreciative family.

However, the back-story was, as always, the best part. As the Governor presented Chet with his pastry, Chet remarked, “For crissakes, Duke, I’m Polish. What the hell do you expect me to do with Greek twinkes?”

Giggling delightedly, Senator Bulger proffered an emerald-green envelope. “It’s a gift from Jimmy and myself,” he lilted.

“Is this a letter bomb?” Chet asked.

“Oh, that’s grand,” the Senator chimed as he deftly slipped behind the Governor while Chet tore open the envelope.

Inside was a get well card signed by the Brothers Bulger. Beneath the Senators florid expressions of concern and wishes for a speedy recovery, his brother had written, “Your partner almost nailed me with that shotgun. Trigger Finger was never quick on his feet. Better him than me. No hard feelings. Hope your ass gets better. J.B.”

Best of all, the card came with two five-dollar scratch tickets, “James and I shared the cost,” the Senator reminded Chet.

After the politicos had moved on to another worthwhile event, the partners relaxed in the comfort of each others familiar presence.

“Dubber, garb us a couple of Bud’s from the cooler in the closet, will ya?”

Enjoying the beer, Chet handed one of the scratch tickets to Can’t and said, “What do you say we scratch these baby’s.”

“Chet, you’re the one that got shot in the ass, they’re yours, you earned them,” Can’t said.

“We’re partners, Dubber. Share and share alike. Got any loose change?”

The partners scratched away. Chet crapped out, “Shit, not even a free ticket. I knew them Mick’s were cheap bastards,” he said.

“Maybe not, Chet.”

“What, you hit for five bucks or something?”

“More like six hundred thousand,” Can’t cried.

“Don’t yank my chain, Dubber. I’m in a weakened state here.”

“See for yourself,” said Can’t, handing the winning ticket to his partner.

Chet stared intently at the ticket, convinced that his partner was deluded by wishful thinking. After a solid minute, a wide grin spread across Chet’s even wider face.

Finally, he said, “Dubber, you know what?”

“What?”

“For money like this, you can shoot me in the ass anytime!”

 

Thus ends Part Three of our hero’s adventurous life. I saw Can’t at the pumps the other day and he told me that he will be out of circulation for a couple of weeks. He will be participating in an AARP sponsored beer and sauerkraut tasting tour of the Rhine Valley. He expects to return in early October with more reflections and undoubtedly, more gas.

 

 

 

 

The Celebrated Opinions and Outrageous Observations of Cantankerous A. Hole.

                                                                    Part Two

After narrowly escaping a marriage proscribed by natural law, criminal codes and good hygiene, we find Can’t back in the Bay State with more worries than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. He knew he could never return to the Appalachia of Massachusetts and the Quabbin Reservoir, and Revere Beach Station held bitter memories best forgotten. He put in for a hardship transfer citing irreconcilable differences with his love life and soon found himself re-assigned to the Old Colony Station. This house patrolled, among other areas, the close-knit, non-diverse, Irish-American enclave of South Boston.

A nocturnal animal at heart, Can’t pulled an assignment to the midnight shift and for the first time in his policing career, was assigned to a two-man car. His partner was a solid block of a Polish-American police officer named Chester Smackemdownski. Chet was a policing classic; 280 pounds molded into a square frame that stretched his black leather cruiser jacket to its seemly limit. His beefy face was accented by a ready smile and a broken nose which curved left then right.

Chet had more time on the job than Can’t, and subtly noted this on their first patrol together by commenting, “You drive Dubber. I’ll ride shotgun.”

Can’t saw that Chet meant what he said when he pulled a double-barreled, sawed-off shotgun out of his duty bag and slid it under the seat.

“You deal with these wacky Micks  Dubber, you want some firepower handy.”

Can’t noted a bulge in Chet’s boot and wondered if he was keeping a kielbasa down there to snack on. Chet then extracted a small, nickel-plated, .32 Colt revolver.

“It’s a throw-down. I ever screw up and blast an unarmed bad guy, the detectives are gonna find this in his right hand.”

Reacting to Cant’s quizzical look, Chet said, “I filed the numbers off, it’s clean.”

“What if the guy you shoot’s left handed?” Can’t asked.

“That’s a silly question, Dubber. Statistically, most people are right-handed. I’m playing the odds. Besides, don’t you know anybody who’s ambidextrous?”

Can’t and Chet fit together like a plate of ham and eggs. They spent the midnight hours breaking up barroom brawls at the joints on West Broadway, stepping over the bullet-ridden corpses of Whitey Bulger’s former business associates, and watching the sunrise over Castle Island.

Their shift commander was a laid back, sagacious, thirty year veteran of the old school. Lieutenant Marty McCracken reported for duty each night wearing bedroom slippers and a tweed cap. A man of a certain age, his goal was to get to retirement before prostate cancer and hypertension got to him. Marty preferred a peaceful, quiet shift to one of chaos and violence, but was pragmatic enough to accept whatever came his way with a philosophical resignation. He also understood that his boys (they were all boys back then) were, on occasion required to meet force with superior force.

Every night at roll call, after ticking off the list of the usual murders, assaults and robberies of the previous twenty-four hours, Marty would remind his troops of the first commandment of effective policing, “To thine own ass be true children,” he counseled. “Now, get the hell out of here and leave me alone.”

Lieutenant Marty had one vice. He craved a fresh, crisp, shortening-laden plain doughnut delivered each morning at precisely 04:00 hours – no exceptions. As Chet had a cousin who owned a Polish Bakery on Dot Ave, he and Can’t were charged with providing the boss his nightly fix of cholesterol and carbs.

The routine never wavered. Can’t and Chet would stop at the bakery for a cup of Joe, to which Chet always added a tasty Paczki or Bismarck. When they were finished, Chet’s cousin Zagmut would fish a fresh sinker out of the Fryolator and drop it steaming hot into a white, waxed paper bag. The partners would then scream Code 3 back to the station to deliver the piping hot pastry to the boss.

Lt. Marty would be in the OIC’s office, slippered feet propped up on the desk, reading either a dog-eared copy of War and Peace or the latest racing form. While Can’t hit the can, Chet would present the bag to his boss with a hearty, “Bombs away, L.T.”

Marty would then make the sign of the cross, open the bag and inhaling the deep-fried fragrance, lean back in his chair and sigh, “Ahhhhh. Better than sex.”

On patrol, Chet made no bones of the fact that he couldn’t give a damn about enforcing the motor vehicle laws and regulation.

“Leave that shit for the young bucks and the troopers, Dubber,” he reasoned. “We’re here to preserve the peace.”

And preserve it they did. Chet abhorred violence against women and the partners developed an expertise in responding to domestic violence calls, long before society demanded the issue be given the attention it deserved.

“My old man batted my mother around a lot when I was a kid,” Chet told Can’t one night while they were waiting for the Medical Examiner behind Triple O’s. “I used to beg him to stop, which just pissed him off even more.”

Staring down at the badly beaten, lifeless form of a bookie known to them as “Poor Looser,” who had apparently displeased the Senate President’s mischievous younger brother Jimmy, Chet was compelled to wax poetic:

“Here lies the corpse of Poor Looser,

A miscreant bum and a boozer.

He wouldn’t have died

If he hadn’t of lied

To a man with bigger mezuzah!”

           Two Boston PD Homicide Detectives standing nearby applauded as Chet continued with the sad reminiscence of his childhood. “One time when I was thirteen or fourteen, I walked into our apartment when the sonofabitch was really hammering her. I had played a Babe Ruth game and had my bat with me. When I was finished with the old prick, he looked a lot like this guy. He never touched her again, though.”

As a result of their dedication to the prevention of domestic violence, Can’t and Chet caught all of the DV calls in their area. One response by the two usually did the trick. Arrest of the batterer was never in question and as part of a fair and impartial investigation, Can’t and Chet would incite the gutless assailant into taking a swing and then administer a serious ass-kicking along with the Miranda Warning. After a stop at Carney Hospital, the now remorseful batterer would be safely housed in The Colony until court next morning.

It was around this time that the partners became aware of the education incentive program developed for police officers. The goal of the program was to broaden the narrow-minded, cynical and dystopian points of view typical of those charged with keeping the peace in a fractured, unstable world. Open the minds of society’s grunt soldiers, the theory went, and their hearts will surely follow. And it was a valid theory, vigorously advocated and generously supported by the Patron Saint of Law Enforcement, Attorney General Robert Quinn.

The partners knew a good this when they saw it, so they swung into action and cracked the books to pass the SAT exam. Can’t had always been a quick study. During his Navy years he had taken the entrance exam for Officer Candidate School and scored in the top one-tenth percentile. However, he was washed out by a shrink who thought Can’t was too smart to become an officer.

On the day of the SAT exam, the partners entered the halls of Boston Latin School and sat down with a group of smart-looking seventeen year olds and eagerly tore through the pages of challenging questions. Weeks later, the partners were notified they had passed with flying colors. When his incredulous peers asked Chet how he had scored so well, he cryptically replied, “When in doubt, look about.”

High scores in hand, the partners applied to Boston State College and were immediately accepted into the four-year bachelor degree program. Cant’s major was Criminal Justice with a minor in Abnormal Psychology. Chet, always a wild card, opted for the study of Theology with a minor in Mathematics. “I want to study the gods and figure the odds,” he told the admissions counselor. The partners quickly fell into the academic routine, diligently studying in their parked cruiser between responses to gangland shootings and doughnut runs for the boss. To lighten the academic load and speed the educational incentive checks, Boston State awarded two years of lifetime experience credits to both; Can’t for his time underwater and Chet for his years as an altar boy.

In a flash, graduation day was at hand and the partners found themselves on a stage at Boston Garden to receive their sheepskins. As they shook hands with the College President and other luminaries of academia, the balloon went up from headquarters. Federal Judge Arthur Garrity had just decreed that forced busing be implemented in order to create racial balance in the Boston Public Schools. Can’t and Chet chucked their cap and gowns, stuffed their diplomas in their shorts and reported to the L-Street Bath House to await further orders. They were fitted out in vintage riot gear and soon found themselves on the line at South Boston High School.

Standing shoulder to shoulder along the entryway to the school, the partners were greeted by black kids giving them the finger as white kids threw rocks and tomatoes at their riot shields. The cops were shaken by all this chaos and shocked at the actions of alleged adults trying to torch buses, terrorize innocent children from the other side of the tracks, and in general, behave as complete and utter assholes.

Invoking his theology training, Chet intoned, “God help us,” as he swatted away a beer-faced bar fly charging the police with a Confederate flag. Can’t, relying on his psych training, knew that all of this insanity stemmed from a deep-seated fear of the other, manifested in stereotypes of bigotry and victimization. The violence continued for months on end, with the cops working overtime to prevent an even greater disaster which was eagerly anticipated by the media.

Can’t often wondered what the good judge had been drinking when he ordered such a chaotic and predictably violent solution to the problem of school discrimination. Taking a break from the skirmish line one afternoon as a squad of State Troopers formed a flying wedge to disperse a group of rock throwing, twenty year old freshmen, Can’t removed his battle-scarred helmet to wipe his brow. Looking at the reenactment of Pickett’s Charge unfolding in front of the school, Can’t mused that it would have been much cheaper and less destructive if the judge had just bused the teachers and the money in the school budget.

As this thought popped into the back of his head, a bright red brick popped off the front it, putting Cant’s lights out and dropping him to the ground. When he came to at The Carney, he had double vision and a pounding migraine between his eyes. A two-headed Chester leaned over and slapped his shoulder.

“How you doing, Dubber?” He asked.

“Not so good,” Can’t replied. “There’s two of you.”

“Maybe you got Bi-Pollack Disorder,” Chet said.

“Did you get the little prick that hummed the brick at me?” Can’t asked.

Chet gave Can’t a million dollar smile and said, “Indeed I did.”

“Just curious. Was he black or white?”

Chet cracked his knuckles in his thoughtful way and said, “He was white. Now he’s more black………. and blue.

After his release from the Carney, Can’t went on a one month injury leave. The migraines eventually passed, but Can’t maintained a permanent, wedge-shaped dimple on his forehead where the brick had landed. Noticeable, but not unsightly, the dimple, or divot, as Chet called it, created a slight indentation on Cant’s frontal lobe. The neurologist doubted that any permanent damage would result, but cautioned Can’t that he might notice a change in his intellectual abilities.

“For better or worse?” Can’t asked.

“Well, it got you smack, dab in the Midsaquittal Plane, so it could go either way, both ways, or no ways.”

“You went to ten years of medical school to tell me that?”

“Medicine’s an art, not a science. You’ll get my bill in the mail.”

While visiting Can’t in his Chelsea Loft overlooking the fuel farm, Chet did his best to comfort his friend.

“If it was me, Dubber, I’d think about a disability pension.”

“And do what? Pick onions again. Screw that. I need to get back on the job.”

“Well, it’s your funeral Dubber. But….”

“What?”

“I notice all these books in here. You belong to The Book of the Day Club or something?”

Chet was right. Volumes of books on subjects as diverse as quantum physics to spelunking lined the shelves, covered the floor and wedged in the toilet bowl.

Can’t put down a copy of Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past” and said, “You know, you’re right. Ever since that little shit whacked me with the brick, I’ve been consumed by a burning desire for knowledge. I read three books a day. It took me just two weeks to read every book in the Chelsea Library.” I feel like the guy in Flowers for Algernon.”

Chet cast a quizzical look.

“His name was Charlie Gordon,” Can’t explained. “He wasn’t too bright until some doc operated on his brain. Then he became a genius.”

“That’s not too bad,” said Chet.

“Not to good, you mean. He got dumb again and then died. They made a movie about it”

“Ain’t that the story with the mouse?” Asked Chet.

“Yeah. Charlie, with Cliff Robertson.”

“I never saw that movie.”

“Anyway, Chet. My thirst for knowledge has become insatiable.”

“I seen that movie.”

“Here’s the thing. I want to go back to college and get an advanced degree, perhaps a Doctorate in a challenging field.

“A PhD on the Mets. Sounds obscene to me,” Chet said.

“I took the GRE and MAT last week and aced them both.”

“So what’s next?” Chet asked, as he popped the top of a Bud and raised it to his lips.

“I think I want to go to Harvard.”

Chet choked on a mouthful of suds. “Are you shitting me? A cop going to Harvard? Those pinkos will never let you in the door. I heard they got “No Pigs Allowed” spelled out in Latin or something over the front gate.”

“I know, but I need a way to get accepted. Help me out here, will ya?”

The partners spent the better part of the evening pouring over the application to Harvard’s elite Graduate School of Psychology. But no matter how they sliced the pizza, they could not discover a way for Can’t to dodge the question of what he had been doing for work these last ten years.

“That’s it, Dubber. You gotta tell em you’re a cop. Then you’re screwed. They’ll find some way to wash you out.”

About to loose all hope, Cant’s attention was drawn to a highlighted square at the bottom of the last page of the application.

“This could be it,” he exclaimed.

“Whatchya got?”

“They ask you to identify your racial and ethnic heritage. It says that some consideration can be given to people from disadvantaged backgrounds..”

“They got a box marked Pigs?” Chet said.

“No, but just about everything else.”

“Then I’d advise the shotgun approach. Mark em all. You put enough of them down, one’s gotta fly.”

“I could try that, but I think they want some proof,” Can’t worried.

“What do you have to loose?” Chet encouraged.  “If Harvard shoots you down, there’s always Anna Maria.”

Eagerly, Can’t filled out the long, detailed application. Following Chet’s advice, Can’t marked any and all racial and ethnic identifiers he thought the Registrar might bite at. Two weeks later, he was asked to come in for an interview. Seated in the handsomely appointed Office of the Registrar, Can’t fell into a conversation with a perky, blonde haired woman from Oklahoma named Elizabeth who was applying to the Law School. She told Can’t that the competition for admission was brutal.

“You really need a good hook to get in. And the cost of higher education is almost criminal.”

Can’t didn’t reveal too much of himself, only that he had been asked in to clear up some issues with his application regarding ethnicity. Finally called into the office, Can’t was told by the Registrar, “We don’t get too many of your type applying to graduate school here.”

“What do you mean my type?”

“Oh, you know. Pi…, I mean officers of the law.

“You mean officers of the law who score perfect on the GRE.”

“I was going to ask about that. Did you actually take the test?” The smarmy, elitist snob asked.

“Of course I did. And as you know, the results are a predictor of academic success. Just as my fist connecting with your nose is a predictor of blood and pain.”

“I don’t think that’s necessary. Really, you people are so atavistic.”

“Read on there, Sherlock. I have ethnic and racial qualifiers that you seem to be ignoring.”

“I was getting to those. You really can’t claim them all, Can’t. Wait, your first name really is Can’t. That’s just too funny.”

“Yes. It’s a name given to me in honor of my ancestors.”

“From what racial or ethnic background?” Mr. Snob asked.

“Pick one. There’s plenty to choose from. And if I’m not accepted, I’ll sue the ass off this place for discrimination against people with multi-ethnicity syndrome.”

“Hmm mm,” Mr. Snob hummed as he read down the long list of possibilities. Finally, he simply closed his eyes and dropped a finger on one.

“This should do. We needed to fill two slots for this category anyway. Welcome to Harvard, Mr. Hole.”

On his way out, Can’t passed Elizabeth in the hall.

“How did it go in there?” She asked.

“We worked it out. I’m in.”

“Do you think I stand a chance?”

“Sure. But if I were you, I’d claim to be an Indian. There’s still one slot open.”

Nodding appreciatively, Elizabeth strode down the hall and marched into history.

 

 

Thus ends Part Two. You may be wondering when this long, convoluted saga will get to the point, or better still, the end. Well, Can’t is a man with a long, convoluted life story and he wants it told his way, so keep your pants on.

Part Three will be rumbling toward you in the near future. Until then, be glad you are who you are. You could be someone else. Then where would you be? Think about it.

 

 

 

The Celebrated Opinions and Outrageous Observations of Cantankerous A. Hole

                                                                Part One

During my rounds in the world of the over sixty crowd, I have come across people from many walks of life. Some always happy, others always sad. Some exhibiting a positive, upbeat demeanor and those who prefer to look through the glass darkly. However, the one aspect common to all is a desire to tell their stories, to be heard for whom they are. They don’t necessarily care that you agree with their points of view, or even ask that you try to understand their beliefs. What they crave most is your attention and acknowledgment that they have lived and continue to occupy meaningful space on this earth.

Such is the case of a man who prefers to be known as Cantankerous A. Hole. A venerable gentleman of three score and then some, Cantankerous, or Can’t for short, currently resides in a renovated chicken coop nestled against the outer perimeter of an unstable nuclear reactor just north of the state line. Can’t believes that his proximity to all of this agitated uranium serves to energize his inner crank. Cantankerous is a twice-divorced, retired member of the law enforcement trade; double dipping by some estimations by maintaining a secondary income through honest employment managing the gas pumps at the local Costco.

As his name implies, Can’t holds a number of predictable contrarian viewpoints and shockingly prescient opinions. I can attest that he retains all of his marbles. In fact,he probably has more in his pouch than the rest of us combined. Can’t loves sharing his insights too. Indeed, he enjoys nothing more than to wander into such diverse venues as smoky VFW halls or rainbow-festooned Unitarian Church Coffee Houses and poke an arthritic finger into some distended orthodoxy just for the thrill of hearing the stale air rush out. But Can’t is much more than a cynical know-it-all. Beneath his brittle carapace exists the heart and soul of a well educated and sentient humanitarian. He just thinks that the world and 99.9% of its inhabitants are really screwed up, and he often includes himself in this statistic. But as Sondheim tells us, “Witches can be right….Giants can be good. You decide what’s right…and you decide what’s good. Okay, a poor analogy. I just like Sondheim.

Can’t comes by his disposition through a combination of genetic imprinting and hard living. Of Franco-Irish lineage, Can’t grew up in Danvers Massachusetts, the only child of Rabbit and Olive (nee McGreevy) Hole. Cant’s father was born Robiere Holcombe, in Frigging’ Cold Quebec, Canada. When he immigrated to the States, Robiere decided to anglicize his name in order to forestall any deportation from the land of the free. The newly minted Rabbit Hole then met Olive while both worked scraping cow hides at a malodorous leather tannery in Peabody. Rabbit wooded Olive with his Gallic charm and before you could say “knocked up” the two were married.

Rabbit made a decent living for his family by growing onions on ten acres of good bottom land on a farm near the Topsfield town line. Always a hard worker, passers-by would see Rabbit toiling in the onion field and comment, “There’s a Hole in the ground, by Jesus.” But the Great Depression deeply sliced profits from onion farming and Rabbit soon realized that he needed a more predictable source of income to support his wife and child. One morning, hustling half price vidalias outside the local Odd Fellows Hall, Rabbit spotted a recruitment poster for the Massachusetts State Police. The poster declared the job provided an Indian Motorcycle to ride on, a spiffy uniform to wear and most importantly, a pension at the end of twenty years. Intrigued, Rabbit read the fine print and learned that the position paid a chump $28.00 per eighty-hour work week plus a cot and three squares a day.

Rabbit didn’t mind the long periods he would be required to spend away from home. He had always been a traveling man. His boy Can’t and the wife could tend to the onions, and the State Police seemed to promise an exciting and unique way of life. So Rabbit eagerly filled out the application and three weeks later was selected to raise his right hand and swear allegiance to the Constitution and the Commonwealth. In short order, Rabbit kissed Olive and Can’t farewell and left Danvers for a life of adventure with the Troopers.

While Rabbit soon found himself in the bucolic environs of the Berkshires keeping law and order among the truck farms, mills and shantytowns of Western Massachusetts, the tending of the onions was left to Can’t and Olive. Believing her son had a future in agriculture, his mother sent him to Essex Aggie for High School. Each morning, after weeding the onions or topping the harvested bulbs, Cantankerous would mount the family donkey and clip-clop down Maple Street to school. As Cantankerous freely points out, spending so much time around onions and donkeys deeply influenced what would evolve into his sour and stubborn personae. It also left him with a life-long condition of chronic constipation. For this, his mother advised a daily cup of onion tea, served cold and paired with a wedge of turnip. (Can’t later substituted a prune for the turnip which loosed things up a bit. To this day, he still awakens at 2:00 am each morning for a bowl of desiccated plums and a flute of crisp Chardonnay.)

After his graduation, Cant’s parents begged him to stick around to continue his toil among the onions. Unmoved, Can’t peeled out of town and promptly joined the Navy to see the world. This was made problematic by his assignment to the submarine corps, limiting his worldview to the hideously tattooed nether-parts of fellow sailors and the long row of silos housing civilization-obliterating nuclear missiles.

Can’t stuck out ten years of waterlogged living in the “Silent Service” and then decided to surface and give dry land another chance. His father, now a retired Corporal and growing cabbages to compliment the onions, urged Can’t to follow in his footsteps and join the State Police. But Can’t, still resenting the many years of unrequited toil demanded by his old man, said no way. Out of spite, he passed the entrance exam for the arch rival agency of the Troopers, the Metropolitan District Commission Police Department – or M.D.C. for those of you who can remember that far back.

After Can’t graduated from the police academy and went on the job, he fell head over heels in love with an exotic dancer he met at the Squire Lounge named Candy. Like his former sub-mates, she too was tattooed. Unbeknownst to Can’t, Candy also had another husband named Rocco who was doing hard time in New Jersey for crimes against the person. He had tattoos too. (Sorry Tom)

For a brief and golden interlude, Can’t and his young bride enjoyed connubial bliss in a trailer park behind the Wonderland Dog Track. This was a convenient location for the ambitious and giddy newlyweds. Cant’s first duty assignment was to the infamous Revere Beach Station, only blocks from the trailer. Here he learned the subtle nuances of the policing trade; how to de-escalate a delicate situation with the deft touch of a Billy club, how to artfully craft a police report that justified use of “A minimum amount of controlled, necessary and reasonable force,” and how to authoritatively elbow his way to the front of the line at Kelly’s Roast Beef.

The happy couple worked tons of overtime to fatten their bank book in hopes of buying their dream house in Saugus. Can’t hustled blood-money details at the gin mills along Revere Beach Boulevard, and Candy hustled too by picking up extra shows and, well………you get the idea. As Candy would breathlessly whisper to Can’t while in the throes of passion, “We just need to plan our work and work our plan.”

However, Can’t would learn that all good things must come to an end. On a cold November night just before Thanksgiving, husband number one showed up at Can’t and Candy’s trailer to reclaim what he assumed was rightfully his. When Can’t rolled home at midnight, the door to the trailer was a-swinging in the breeze. Can’t entered cautiously; revolver drawn, ready to lay down his life to protect his sweet Candy. But all that Can’t found was an empty refrigerator and a missing bankbook. On the door of the empty fridge was a Dear Can’t letter written in Candy’s signature purple lip gloss. The letter was both an apology for deceiving him and an admission that Rocco had always been her one true love. Candy urged Can’t to forget her; “Like the money in our joint account,” she wrote, “I’m gone for good.”

Can’t was crestfallen, and pissed – mostly at himself for being such a goddamn fool. As the days grew short in their inexorable march toward winter; he tried to assuage his heartache by telling himself, “At least she won’t burn me for alimony.” But his emotions remained raw and he found living and working in Revere simply too draining. He couldn’t drive through Bells Circle without thinking of his missing Candy. Out of desperation, Can’t requested and received a transfer to the Siberia of the M.D.C. – the Quabbin Reservoir station. He volunteered for the midnight shift, and dedicated 8.5 hours each night patrolling for unlicensed ice fishermen, poachers and anti-social nudists.

Can’t spent his days off wandering aimlessly through the hills and by-ways of Western Massachusetts. On one particularly lonely journey, he pulled his AMC Pacer into the gravel lot of a small, white clapboarded church. A peace flag fluttered atop the steeple and Can’t read a sign over the door announcing to the world that this was the New Church of High Expectations – Reformed. Curious, Can’t tried the door and finding it unlocked, entered the modest edifice. Inside, his senses drank in pastel colored walls, Reggae music and the unmistakable odor of a green leafy vegetable substance that Cant’s training and experience gave him probable cause to believe was freshly burning marijuana.

Seated at the altar was a diminutive and ravishing young woman with a garland of delicate flowers crowning her flaxen hair.  Can’t was rendered speechless in the presence of such gentle beauty. Finally mustering the courage to speak, Can’t stepped forward and introduced himself.

“I’m Daisy Lovemuch,” she replied. “I live in a commune not too far from here. Would you like a Lilac?” Daisy reached into her large shoulder bag and produced a fragrant, full-blossomed cutting and handed it to Can’t.

“What do you do at the commune?” Can’t asked.

“I weave handbags and other fashion accessories from hemp and sell them at our natural food store.” Smiling brightly, Daisy said, “You seem nice. Are you?”

Looking down, Can’t muttered, “I ah, I guess so. For a cop.”

Can’t hid his face behind the lilac and pleaded, “What else can I say?”

He was relieved when Daisy smiled and giggled, “Cool. I think my daddy was a cop too.”

As it turned out, Daisy was a pro-police hippie, but out of necessity, kept her views to herself to avoid expulsion from the commune.

Can’t was profoundly smitten, and based upon scant facts and circumstances, formed the opinion that he and Daisy were meant for each other. Daisy felt likewise, and after a whirlwind courtship agreed to Cant’s proposal of marriage.

They were joined on a bright September morning in the very church where they met. The M.D.C. Color Guard led the formation scattering rose petals and firing ear piercing volleys from their assault blunderbusses.  Afterwards, there was a huge reception at Hamilton Orchards in New Salem followed by a pick-your-own (drops only) half price free-for-all. The guests were a decidedly eclectic bunch; garland-decorated hippies who resembled an aging Peter, Paul and Mary contrasted with suspicious looking off-duty cops sporting dark sunglasses, Fu-Manchu mustaches, bushy sideburns and tell-tale bulges beneath their garish tropical shirts. There was a smattering of family from either side, but noticeably absent were Cant’s old man and Daisy’s mother.

When the reception ended, the newlyweds squeezed into the Pacer and sped northeast to Hampton Beach where Can’t had rented a seaside cottage at the attractive off-season rate. Following a delicious dinner at Mama Leone’s with the 40% police discount and a romantic stroll along condom- strewn Ocean Boulevard, Daisy and Can’t returned to the cottage to consummate their love for each other.

While Daisy freshened up in the outdoor shower, Can’t, pacing alongside the honeymoon pull-out couch, was overwhelmed by a sense of foreboding that something about Daisy didn’t smell quite right. Finally succumbing to those evil twins of doubt and suspicion, Can’t opened Daisy’s hemp shoulder bag and found what he was looking for – what he perhaps suspected all along but was afraid to believe possible.

Secreted at the bottom of the bag in a seed and stem littered compartment, Can’t found a neatly folded square of parchment paper. With trembling hands he unfolded the square to reveal Daisy’s Birth Certificate. Can’t closed his eyes and drew a deep breath. Finally allowing his eyes to scan the contents; which were properly notarized and attested thereto, Cant’s jaw dropped as he read the names of Daisy’s parents; Violet Undertow and……. Rabbit Hole.

“Holy shit!” Can’t cried. “She’s my sister.”

Repulsed and heartbroken, Can’t allowed the poisoned parchment to slip from his fingers and drift to the floor. He grabbed his keys and .38 Snub from the top of the mini-fridge and started for the door of the cottage just as the shower rattled off.

“I’ll be with you in a minute, darling,” Daisy called. “And I have a BIG surprise for you.”

“Not anymore, you don’t,” Can’t hissed. “You may think that incest is best, Sis, but in my book family reunions can only go so far. Forget we ever knew each other……and don’t even think about alimony!”

With those angry words hanging in the still air like a musty olfactory indiscretion, Can’t stormed from the cottage. Maneuvering the Pacer through the black night, he wiped away the bitter tears of heartbreak yet again as he sped south toward Massachusetts and an uncertain future.

 

Thus ends Part One of our continuing saga. BOLO for Part Two in the near future. Now you may wonder how it is that the author came about such a riveting personal story. Although confidentiality is our by-word, Can’t (not his real name) and yours truly, go back decades to a simpler, cruder time (if you can imagine). Once burned, twice shy; Can’t eschews all things digital now, following a bad experience with on-line dating.  He scribes his reflections with a regulation Cross Pen on standard yellow legal pads – double spaced to allow for corrections. He then hands them to your affiant when we meet at the gas pumps for a fill-up. Can’t welcomes your comments – although he could give a damn what you think, and is well suited and  available for advice as needed. Forward all replies and queries to Can’t by way of this blog post. I’ll be sure that he sees them. Beyond that, I take no further responsibility.

Shadowboxing

When does writing about this stuff become just another exercise in redundancy, another addition to the endless stream of opinion and shallow emotionalism diverting our attention and cluttering our discourse? It seems to me that the recent, multiple murders of police officers in America, sad, tragic and senseless, just give a platform to those who wish to use them to champion their cause, while disparaging the cause or causes of others. Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, gun control, racism – inherent, institutional or otherwise, domestic terrorism, immigration, homophobia…..the list seems endless, the problems insurmountable and far too complex for any solution we humans may contrive. Fair minded people from all walks of life obsess with questions of how we have devolved to this place and wonder how much further we, as a nation, will submerge into violence and possible anarchy.

I feel it as an oppressive state, a sour, divided national mood. This is exacerbated by the explosion of provocative, sensational videos, recorded on cell phones and launched without context or perspective onto electronic platforms which flood the cyber world and scream for our attention. And as always, the national, main stream media, or what’s left of it, joins the tumult, adding to the noise and detracting from any possibility of a rational, ordered discussion. Metrics designed to measure the potential popularity of a particular story line; opinion, point of view and political orientation often determine what is news and what is not. The hunger for ratings-based revenue, paired to the potential audience  that receives the message – either left or right, creates group think, exacerbates our fears, and above all, promotes division and mistrust just at the time when unity and a willingness to listen are needed most.

This leads us to believe that not only is the world is a dangerous place, but one made up of mutually exclusive extremes. People, police officers or otherwise, are either extremely bad; racist, selfish, hateful, abusive and evil, or just the opposite; heroic, self-sacrificing, unconditionally loving and pure. These stereotypes not only make for good story telling, but affirm our views of the world. But I think these are mostly false views and as JFK once reminded us, “The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie–deliberate, contrived and dishonest–but the myth–persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the clichés of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” It also leaves out the reality of the other 98% of us who lie somewhere along the spectrum of human existence and behavior.

When I hear words like hero or racist or victim thrown around in everyday conversation, I cringe by the lack of clarity and genuine meaning. I like to think that words still matter, and hold a high bar regarding their meaning and use in our everyday conversation. That said, in my thirty years of policing, I cannot recall doing anything approaching the heroic, although I worked with some cops who did indeed act heroically in desperate situations. I also don’t think that I did anything particularly evil or odious. But again, I knew of this and witnessed some things that I would have done differently. I also knew a limited few who should not have been police officers for a multitude of reasons. Not many were bad; most were just struggling from being in the wrong job. Overall, I was like every other policeman; plodding along night to night, day to day, taking things as they came along and trying to leave them a little better than I found them. No drama, no high expectations, yet always aware to be looking over my shoulder and to watch my partners back so we could both go home at the end of the day.

Life is a complicated business. We all carry our own burdens, harbor our own biases, feel our own feelings and view life in our own unique way. I am often an angry and judgmental man. Tolerance, much less acceptance of those with whom I differ, often escapes me. But occasionally I am reminded by someone who loves me that whenever I point the finger of accusation and defensiveness, there are three other fingers pointing right back at me. And a real stare-down in the mirror occasionally reveals someone whom I don’t like that much. This realization is not comforting to me, but in my own judgmental way I know that only a fool seeks comfort above all else in life. Where I take it from there is entirely up to me.

 

Go To Your Strength

police_officers

What can be said about last week has been said a thousand times already, by people from all sides of the issues and in more articulate ways than I could possibly muster. Debate about controversial police shootings allegedly motivated by inherent racism and disregard for the lives of people of color rages on. It’s fed by cell phone cameras and media competition that shoves aside any time for reasonable analysis. You are judged by arm-chair analysts; clueless snobs on NPR who make you out as racist, or blow-hard dopes on Fox who want to recreate you as warriors. In either case, they are only interested in what this means for their ratings or resources.  The rush to judgment is the new standard. It won’t go away.

It’s risky to write when you are angry, sad and confused. You’re not sure how to reach the other side, those other voices that disagree with you. I have a hard time even writing the words, five officers were murdered by one man, and a half-dozen others wounded. Nerves are raw, emotions charged. I think that Chief Brown said it all on Friday morning; “Police don’t get much support these days. So let’s don’t make today most days.”

In that spirit, I’d like to tell you this. You have one of the most complex and challenging jobs there is. And the more diverse or high-crime the area you work in, the more complex and challenging your job becomes. This country has a race problem, it always has. There’s poverty, drugs, ignorance and violence. Guns are everywhere. Not just the pistols of my day, but high – capacity assault rifles of all varieties. Weapons of war possessed by the insane, the bigoted and the haters of the world.

In spite of this, you still go to work every day. That’s one of your strengths. Out of the thousands of cops working right now, having thousands of interactions with people from all walks of life, how many will go bad? Not that many, I know. Of course these won’t become a “story” or an “incident.” Such things are boring and don’t make for news.

You need to remember how many conflicts you’ll solve today. How many people will get a softer landing because of what you do today. How much calm you’ll restore, how much chaos you’ll prevent. Remember that those little seeds of peace that you plant today might pay off in the life of someone else years from now in ways that you may never see. That the things that you prevent from happening today, just by being there, are the things that no one records on their cell phone. This too, is one of your strengths.

You work in a world of shadow and conflict, where nothing is really black or white, and there are no clearly defined rules of engagement – except perhaps the belief that you treat others in the manner that you would expect to be treated in similar circumstances. The people who insist to you that your job is just “law enforcement,” don’t understand the half of it. Policing is made up of many different things, the enforcement of the law is just a fraction of what you do. Mainly, you bring peace, you bring protection. This is one of your strengths. You do it well.

It’s so human of us to always go to the dark side, see only the bad, the evil, the unjust.  Because of what you do, you can’t ignore these things.But there’s a lot more to life than that. You just have to keep your eyes open for it and embrace it where you find it. If you can, remember the first day you pinned on your badge. Perhaps your spouse, one of your parents, or someone else important in your life pinned it on for you. It was a great day. I bet you were filled with pride. The badge, the uniform, they have great meaning. They are a symbol of the trust that we have in you.  They are also the symbol of the strength that you bring to the job every day. Don’t forget to save some of it for yourself.

An American Life

-You wanna split a cookie?

-I dunno. What do they have?

-They’re right in front of you. Take a look.

-Are you kidding? Two bucks for a frigging cookie?

-I’ll lend you the dollar. Let’s get the Mexican Chocolate one. They put pepper in em’.

-Why the hell would you put pepper in a cookie?

-I told you. For the flavor.

Seated in the crowd, they raise their voices to hear through failing ears.

-They have music here, huh?

-Oh, yeah. Coffee, cookies and entertainment. All for a fair price.

-What do you get at Dunkin’s?

-Attitude.

A chuckle.

-Yup, “Here’s your coffee…….Here’s your money………Screw you……Screw you too, and have a nice day.”

-Classic Masshole exchange.

-Speaking of coffee, remember Ma’s?

-A&P Eight O’clock brand. She’d dump half a bag in that old stainless steel percolator and brew it till it boiled over.

-Then she’d drink it all day.

-And dump her butts in the cup.

-Four Kool filter tips belly up in the dregs.

-Pop threw his in the toilet and let em’ float till the next flush.

-He was ahead of his time. Why waste water?

-Remember his bacon and eggs?

-Fry the bacon, crack the eggs into the bacon grease, cook until hard…rock hard.

-I didn’t know they came any other way until I had to cook my own.

-You learned young.

A thoughtful pause as the troubadours take a water break.

 

-How old would Pop be now?

-Let’s see, 1912….that would make him one hundred and four, this August.

-Imagine all the shit he saw.

-World War One, The Depression, Christ, he was almost middle age when World War Two came. Then moving here, working for Grossman’s, getting screwed by them in the end.

-He didn’t take much care of himself; two packs of Camel’s a day, high blood pressure, emphysema, no wonder he only made it to fifty-six.

-Who did, then?  They didn’t know about stress. You just got up every morning and did what you had to do.

-He was loyal to Ma, though. And God knows they had their ups and downs.

-You know, he came from that big family. Lot’s of problems there.

-Small families don’t have problems?

-It’s all a matter of degree. By the time I came along, almost half of them were  gone already.

-He didn’t take any bullshit. What you saw was what you got.

– He knew people, alright. And he didn’t mind cutting them some slack. I think he helped a lot of folks along the way.

-I’d agree with that.

-He enjoyed a good laugh.

-Remember driving with him?

-Oh, yeah. In the summer when school was out, he’d take me along on the road to his sales calls.

-Remember his naps?

-When he was behind the wheel driving, or when he’d pull over?

-Scared the shit out of me.

-I think I had been to every diner from Gloucester to Lowell before I was twelve years old.

-See the USA in Pop’s Chevrolet.

A long look into the cup.

-Miss him?

-It’s been so long, how do you miss someone who’s been gone almost fifty years? But I wish he’d been around a lot longer. We probably missed some important lessons.

-Yeah. We sure had to wing it plenty of times.

-We did all right.

-We were lucky.

-There but for the Grace of God.

-Go I.

-Amen.