Sunday, November 18, 2018

Self-Inflicted Wounds

I don't sleep much, averaging around five hours a night; arthritis in the shoulders and metal in the lower back see to that. As Dick Marcincko said in one of his books, 'Pain lets you know you're still alive.'

Awakening to this reminder of life at 0430, I made my usual breakfast of oatmeal (containing a tablespoon of peanut butter) and a non-fat yogurt, to go along with my Tim Horton's black gold, and retired to the recliner to browse the TV menu.

'Destroyed In Seconds' on Discovery caught my attention; this show depicts all sorts of disasters and accidents caught on video, so this would be my breakfast entertainment. Hey, it beats reading the back of the oatmeal box, right?

I was struck, while watching, by the number of avoidable incidents the show depicted. Things like earthquakes and hurricanes happen, you can't prevent them, but the number of people hurt by performing less-than-intelligent, unnecessary stunts was dumbfounding. That's saying something, coming from a guy who spent 31 years dealing with the public's problems.

For instance, the guy performing stunts on his motorcycle on a public highway as his buddy rides behind him, filming. He lost control in a high-speed wobble, went down and slammed into a car parked on the berm, all caught on tape. He suffered a broken arm and spine, but he survived.

The amateur stunt rider was lucky, though he suffered a painful price; others in the program weren't as fortunate.

It got me to thinking about the title of the program and how it can apply to events in our lives; a moment of pleasure or daring destroying our lives, literally in seconds. Allowing external influences to overcome our common sense, we have often made straight-out dumb moves or judgements. Some of those can do or has done irreparable damage, either physically, emotionally or both.

Though my life wasn't destroyed, Lord knows I've made my fair share of short-sighted, spur-of-the-moment decisions, most of them when I was a younger man. Its by the grace of God I am even here to realize those facts. For instance, my cousin and I thought it would be a good idea to walk out to the middle of a twin-tracked railroad bridge spanning the Ohio River; we discovered an access ladder that led down to the top of the central support buttress, about ten feet below the rail support timbers. That's where we were when a 100-car coal train rolled by mere feet above our heads, shaking the entire structure so badly I was sure it would come apart and throw us to certain death into the river a hundred feet below.

There's an excuse for that one, though, albeit weak: I was 14 years old. Kids and teens don't see danger nearly as well as adults, but that little trek could easily have cost us our lives. I told my parents about that one thirty-five years after the fact; Mom still wanted to take a belt to me.

The worst of the wounds we cause aren't the ones to ourselves, though, but rather to those we love. I've been on both ends of that scenario and, in both incidences, the emotional pain was just as intense as any physical pain could have been. Somewhere along the lines of both alcohol was involved.

I stopped drinking a long time ago, one of the best decisions of my life. The pain I had been causing to both myself and those I cared about was destructive. I took care of me first, which also took care of those close to me and, as a by-product, terminated other problems. Unfortunately, when the other side of a partnership refuses to acknowledge that a significant issue exists in their life, you can't fix it for them. They're far too busy revelling in their imagined glory to really take a look at themselves and see it.

What do you do? You move on. Impulsive behavior, in most cases, is going to cause damage somewhere in your life or someone else's, either immediately or down the road. Damage that appears later will always be at an unexpected time. Believe me on this one; experience is a great teacher.

Learn from your mistakes. Listen to those who have gone through some tough times of their own making.

STOP hurting yourself.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Truth In Advertising....Or Lack Thereof

When a realtor lists a foreclosed home and the first three words are "move-in ready"...beware. Chances are very high that it is not. Listing a home as MIR does NOT mean having to install a heat source, septic system and digging a new well because there is no water.

There's a security system commercial that is shown frequently on television; in this commercial, criminals are shown slowly creeping towards a home, intent on stealing something. The doorbell, which is also a security camera, allows the absent homeowner to see their approach and warn them off. The catch? This company follows the line of thinking that infests insurance companies and other home security advertisers on TV...every criminal in these commercials is caucasian. That's not racist, just fact. Watch and see for yourself. To those of us that enforced the law for a living, though, it goes like this: we're blue, and then there's everyone else. Race doesn't matter. A criminal is a criminal is a criminal, period.

On social media today I saw a poll; I won't go into what it involved, but you had to click a link to vote. Then, after you cast your vote, a pop-up asking for your credit card info appears because they want you to donate to their know, so they can keep running their polls online. If you don't donate, your vote isn't recorded.

"If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor." We all remember that lie, don't we? Well, now the Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund is telling their own version of that fib. We were all told that retired members would receive a monthly stipend to offset the cost of health insurance, as OPF wouldn't be providing health insurance for its members as of January 1, 2019. As it turns out, that stipend will only be provided if a member enrolls in one of four Medical Mutual coverages; in other words, we can't shop for our own insurance...which would without doubt be cheaper and offer more coverage that the MM policies. Oh, and as for keeping my doctors? Under Medical Mutual, every one of my physicians, from my family doctor to my cancer surgeon in Columbus, is out-of-network. MM pays nothing if I have to see one of them. NOTHING.

THAT is outrageous, and I'm still three years away from Medicare eligibility.

Endeth the rant.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

One Veteran

One veteran carried three wounded Marines, one at a time and under heavy fire, to safety after being caught in a Vietnamese ambush, only to collapse from exhaustion. He regained consciousness inside a body bag because the corpsmen thought he was dead.

One veteran fought to get to a trapped soldier inside BOQ 3 in Saigon, along with 14 other military policemen, during TET; only one other of his rescue group survived. Once inside the building, he watched as a Communist B-40 rocket exploded in the doorway, vaporizing one man and wounding everyone else inside, including himself.

One veteran charged ashore during the D-Day invasion at Normandy, under intense German machine gun fire, on June 6, 1944.

One veteran was captured, along with most of his company, behind German lines and held in the infamous Stalag XI B, a brutal prisoner-of-war camp, until being liberated 4 months later by a British armored column.

One veteran survived being shot down while piloting helicopters on five different occasions.

One veteran survived despite being so badly wounded by mortar fragments that corpsmen loaded him aboard a chopper that was carrying out dead soldiers.

One veteran survived aboard ship despite five Japanese kamikaze attacks in the South Pacific.

One veteran, as he exited a bunker while under attack by North Korean artillery fire, was wounded in the legs. His rifle was blown in half.

One veteran survived a mortar round explosion that blew him into the air, peppering both arms and legs with shards of metal; his life was spared because the flak jacket he'd been given just days before absorbed fragmented pieces that would have killed him.

One veteran, whose job was to remove wounded soldiers from battlefields, was wounded by a mortar round while carrying a badly injured soldier to safety. His unit suffered 50% casualties in Italy.

One veteran survived being wounded by grenade shrapnel from a Communist booby-trap that another Marine had triggered. He then was shot twice.

One veteran survived an exploding North Vietnamese rocket, taking a jagged steel fragment in his back. It killed the medic behind him.

One veteran took out a North Korean tank that had overrun their position with a bazooka.

One veteran left high school his senior year to enlist in the Navy; as his destroyer was under Japanese kamikaze attack in the Pacific, he shot one of the planes out of the sky with the 20-millimeter antiaircraft gun he manned.

That veteran, who never received his high school diploma, will be presented with it tomorrow at his alma mater in front of the current student body.

And I'll have the honor and privilege of introducing him.


Wednesday, November 7, 2018


The alarm goes off right in the middle of a dream...or maybe you're so sound asleep that there is no dream. You roll over, reach out and your hand hovers above the 'snooze' button.

What you do next, that miniscule little moment of decision, can set the tone for the rest of your day.

It forms your mindset, frames your approach to everything you're going to do until you slip back between the sheets at bedtime.

The lure of a few more moments in that warm bed can be strong, can't it? Its powerful, that urge to doze a few more minutes, but does it have power over you? A study done by some think-tank on the taxpayers' dimes says that there's eighteen seconds to decide whether you hit that button or get out of bed and into the day.

I don't think its anywhere near 18 seconds. I can't recall the last time an alarm woke me up because I'm generally hitting the 'brew' button on the coffee maker right around 0430 hrs.

Why arise that early? There's things to get done, tasks to start or finish.

We generally have an idea of what the day ahead may entail, but we also know no two days are ever the same. There's too many variables, too many 'Murphy' moments that can occur. You get in the shower only to discover there's no water due to an overnight line break. Car won't start or you notice a tire with low air. It snowed while you were sleeping and the roads are slick. One of the kids wakes up sick. Your elbow bumps the coffee cup, splashing its contents all over your shirt. Caught in traffic because of a wreck that has the highway snarled.

That extra five minutes in bed put you that far behind.

Your mindset, your approach to life in general, can be what sets you apart. The snooze button? That was a rather mundane illustration but it fits the topic. We all have tasks we don't like but they have to be done, right? A former Navy SEAL and founder of SEAL Team Six, Dick Marcinko, says, "you don't have to like it, you just have to do it." I don't know how many times I said that to my boys when they were growing up, but I'm sure they'll recite it to their kids too.

Get it done. Attack those uninteresting or unavoidable tasks and put them behind you.  Don't procrastinate, not even for a day, because it just makes it easier to put things off in the future. Don't rationalize, incentivize. Give yourself a little reward for completing a job.

Like maybe hitting the snooze button tomorrow morning.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Rid Yourself Of Subconscious Stress

The worst kind of stress or tension you have in your life is the kind you don't even know about.
Take some time for you and only you. Seek solitude. Shut off the phone, the TV, the radio, the internet and get away from people. Find a quiet place with no distractions. Take a walk in the woods, sit by a river or lake and just be by yourself, just for a little while. It doesn't have to be a daily event, or even weekly, but you need to make time for yourself.
Its amazing then, at those times, how clearly you can hear that still, small voice that should be guiding your life. I say 'should' because we allow the clutter of daily life to all too often drown out that voice; when we allow that to happen, when we permit the static and noise of things that cloud our judgement strangle that voice, stress is created. Tensions mount. Problems are magnified.
Choose, at times, to be alone. Refresh your spirit. Drain your mind of those things causing your storms.
And seek the voice of God.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Another Strange But True Police Tale

A few decades ago, while working at a small department, our Watch Commander on nights, Frank, was a very demanding sort, one who wanted things done his way and his way only. To that end, when Frank decided to divide our village into northern and southern halves, one of us would be assigned to each side with specific responsibilities…mainly performing building security checks.

Frank wanted our businesses checked several times throughout the shift; there’d been a rash of businesses burglarized  throughout the county and this was a tactic he’d utilize to make it tougher for the criminals to hit us in the village.

Checking buildings, when you’re not otherwise occupied, can get very tedious, not to mention down right boring. Occasionally one of us would find a business’s door unlocked, but those times were few and far between. Frank had gotten it into his head that Paul and I weren’t shaking any doors since we weren’t finding very many open so, one night before we left the station to start our patrol routine, he made an announcement to both of us.

“Before I came in tonight, I marked six business doorknobs…three north and three south…with ketchup; your job will be to find those doors and notify me which ones they were at the end of the shift.”

I have to be honest, this was a little ridiculous; we’re grown men, enforcing the law, carrying the power of life and death on our hips in the form of sidearms and charged with making a split-second decision, should it ever come to that, on whether or not to use that power…yet he couldn’t trust us that we were checking the security of the village’s businesses?

After about the third night of this, I formulated a tactic of my own, employing it to good measure. When the time came to go on station for the end of our shift, I informed Frank that I’d found not one, not two….but SEVEN business door knobs marked with ketchup, and told him which ones they were.

“But that can’t be, young man…I only marked three!”

“Well, LT, you can go out and check for yourself because I didn’t clean them off.” We were supposed to carry napkins and wipe the doors clean after finding his markings. I didn’t do it on this night, with purpose; I’d made a stop of my own on the way to work to get a fast-food burger…and a big handful of ketchup packets.

The next night, not only did I mark a few extra in my end of the village, but also on his end ( Paul was on nights off, meaning the WC would be out shaking doors), which perplexed him mightily. The next night, same thing…only I added a little mustard to his end of the village, too. When I was on nights off, I made it a point to go out about two hours before their shift began and leave some ketchup and mustard on business doorknobs throughout the village; this way, the same thing was happening even when I was off. (Good thing I lived close to the village, huh?)

It wasn’t too long after that that we stopped reporting our condiment findings before gearing down after our shift, and Frank never said another word about it.

I think he got the message.

*** Names were changed to protect the identity of officers involved

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

When Death Became Real

"No one here gets out alive" - Jim Morrison

Death is inevitable. It's a part of life. In the United States, a death occurs every twelve seconds, amounting to 7,452 every day. In the time its taken you to read this, someone, somewhere in the country, passed on.

That's pretty morbid stuff, yet so common....until it hits home.

Death has impacted all of us at one time or another; for many of us, several times. We've lost grandparents. parents, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters or spouses. It is a terrible tragedy, losing a loved one, but a tragedy we've all faced.

Normally, its the grandparents first. That's just a fact of life. I remember losing my first grandparent, Grandma Clark, on Christmas Eve of 1965. No time is a good time to lose family, but Christmas time, in my opinion, is the worst. It sucks the joy out of the holiday. Instead of celebrating the birth of Christ into the world, we grieve loss.

I'd lost two of my grandparents prior to 1974; my Grandpa Clark died in November of 1973. While losing them was terrible, it was inevitable because they were elderly.

Losing a classmate when I was fifteen years old, a guy I'd played baseball with, was when death became all too real. It was a shocking event because we were just kids. Dying in high school just isn't supposed to happen. Ever.

Jim had just gotten his driver's license and tooled around in a VW Beetle. It had to be amazing, having that freedom, a day we all looked forward to. Independence carried in your wallet.

Back then there was no seat belt law, no restrictions on who could be in the car with you, or when, save for rules parents put in place.

Mansfield-Washington and Hull Roads intersect on the downhill side between two rises and is a nearly-blind intersection, a hazardous stretch of road for an experienced driver. On the night of his accident, Jim was driving with three of his Madison classmates in the car after dark, approaching the intersection.

And it was foggy.

Though time has robbed me of details, there was a terrible collision in the intersection; Jimmy suffered severe head trauma, one of the kids in the back seat sustained a broken hip and I think a third passenger broke a wrist. Jim's injuries were by far the worst.

He was in the intensive care unit of Mansfield General Hospital, as it was called back then. After hearing of this terrible event, I called ICU and they told me he was in critical condition; there were no HIPAA laws back then, either. The next day I went up to see him; unbelievable (by today's standards), they led me to his darkened room, and what I saw was the biggest shock of my then-young life: a form laying in a hospital bed, head heavily bandaged, monitors both above and beside where he lay. On the other side of his bed a machine, its hose snaking to Jim's mouth, breathed artificially for my friend. I don't know how long I stood in the doorway in stunned silence; I do remember the nurse tugging at my arm, leading me away.

I went home and cried.

Two days later I called the unit to check on Jim's condition. The nurse who answered the phone, when I inquired about him, seemed very nonchalant when she replied, "I'm sorry, but he expired."

Expired, as if she were talking about a gallon of milk.

I don't remember if the school excused those of us that went to Jim Norris' funeral; thinking back, I can't imagine they wouldn't have. I just recall how somber the service was, surreal as it ran its course. I didn't go to the cemetery because I knew it would have been terrible, watching them lower my red-headed friend, who had always seemed to have a smile, into the ground. I waited six months to visit his burial site, and I stood staring at the plaque with his name on it. I still hadn't accepted the fact he was gone.

Today, nearly 45 years later, its still hard to believe.

In the years between that event and 2013, when I retired from police work, I came to see death on a fairly regular basis, in all manner and form, taking infants through the very elderly. Much like that nurse on the phone so many years ago I, as have many of those I worked with and those who protect and serve today, formed the hard shell around my emotions. Its a shell that keeps you sane, helps the psyche stay intact and functioning. Its a necessity, an integral part of equipment for coppers, the same as a ballistic vest or gun belt, tools you don't go without. Its not that you don't care, as some would think; its because police officers inherently care too much, an emotion that can profoundly affect job performance as well as family life.

I've lost some of the hardness of my shell over the last five years, as the job has receded in my personal rear-view mirror, but vestiges of the shell still remain with me.

As does the memory of my Madison High School classmate, Jimmy Norris.