Two officers fall in the line of duty, yet nothing will ever change

x610_jpg_475x310_q85It was just another Tuesday on the job, but for two police officers halfway across the country from each other, it would be the last days of their lives.

In San Jose, Calif., Michael Johnson — a 14-year veteran of SJPD — was shot and killed by a madman on a balcony with a high-power rifle. He was answering a call about a suicidal male.

Earlier in the day, in Fond du Loc, Wisconsin, a yet-to-be-identified state trooper, was killed during a bank robbery gone awry.

Two men in one day, killed in the line of duty, their lives snuffed out just like that, their families left behind to suffer through the pain and loss.

Most of us, I think it’s fair to say, have love/hate relationships with police officers.

The police. Cops. Boys in Blue. Po-po. The Fuzz. Pigs. Flat-feet. Doughnut eaters.


Pick your adjective and depending upon your mood — did you just receive a ticket? — you might have uttered one of those words.

Growing up, my best friends’ father was a police officer. Overall, I think he was a good man, though, in the end I learned as I grew up he had made his fair share of mistakes, too. He’s human. Aren’t we all?

One time, when I was on a date in high school, I got into a minor car accident in the parking lot of a movie theater. The driver of the car I hit was going a bit berserk, and being a bit of an aggressive asshole to the scared the kid who had accidentally ran into his car.

When the police officer showed up to write up the report, it was my best friends’ dad, and the driver of the other car decided to get into my face one too many times.

Big mistake.

He was the one who came close to winding up in cuffs. I got a wink and a nod from Officer Curtis. They say there’s never a cop around when you need one. Well, once in a while, there is. Thankfully.

Over the years, I’ve had the honor to sit down and have in-depth talks, interviews really, with two police officers — one of who was shot in the line of duty; the other who shot and killed a man during a stand-off.

It was during these emotional discussions when you truly understand the mind-set of what it means to be a police officer; especially when you line-up the two incidents side-by-side, separated by decades and two different police departments.

One officer gets shot and survives and wonders why none of his fellow officers fired back at the suspect. The second officer shoots and kills a man seconds after the deceased had opened fire on him and his brothers.

Hearing those two stories were both very special moments in my journalism career as both police officers seemed to open their hearts and souls to talk about things with me. They are interviews I’ve never forgotten.

But, I’ve also witnessed first hand the darker side of police work, too.

When I was in my 20s, I was once actually thrown up against the side of a police car by an over-aggressive officer who was proving his macho authority to a young kid; shoved so hard that my eye glasses literally flew off of my face and across the roof his car. My transgression? Being in the wrong place at the wrong time as they were looking for somebody who matched the description of me and most of my friends.

I’ve witnessed two different police officers working the same case literally tell two different suspects blatant lies in order to investigate whatever incident they were working. Just totally making things up and not even coming close to telling the truth. Why? Because the Supreme Court gives police officers the right to lie to us to get what they want.

Of course I say this is the darker side of police work, but what do I really know?

Watch movies and study history and you learn of the disgusting acts of Sheriff Jim Clark, or the four Los Angeles police officers who beat the living shit out of Rodney King, only to get away with it thanks to a jury of their peers.

There have been corrupt cops since the beginning of time, but there are also cops who will run into a burning building to help firemen save lives, or jump into a raging river in order to save a drowning young boy, or if you’re respectful and nice will let you off with a warning when you caught driving 72 in a 45 miles per hour zone at two o’clock in the morning.

When men and women put on a uniform, pin on a badge, and strap a gun around their waist, we the general public can certainly have a love/hate relationship with them.

It comes with the territory.

There are days police officers have my full respect. And there are days when police officers leave me shaking my head and disappointed in who we are as a society.

They are brave enough to do a job I would never do and they have seen things my eyes never want to witness.

And yet some of them take advantage of that badge and uniform and sully both their profession and their roles as human beings.

Like I said: Love/hate.

I understand why police officers have to pull that macho attitude with all the do-as-I-say power, I really do. After all, many of the people they are dealing with on a day-to-day basis are putting on their own act. It’s as if each side is starring in a play — or a reality show, for that matter — and putting forth an act for each others benefit. By doing that, though, it instantly creates a volatile situation that can flash into a wildfire in an instant.

But when the uniform comes off, when the gun gets locked up, and the policemen and policewomen of our world go home, they are just like you and me.

They have sons and daughters, moms and dads, wives and girlfriends. Or, boyfriends, I suppose. This is the 21st century.

My second-cousin is married to a Maine State Trooper and from everything I know of him, he is a good man. Every time he heads out to work, I can’t imagine the fear his wife and three daughters have, hoping he comes home.

Thus when you wake up on a Wednesday morning and read about two police officers far from you being gunned down and killed in cold blood, it makes you sad.

You mourn for them and their loved ones.

And you mourn yet again for the world we live in, the world we have created, where people kill people for no reason whatsoever.

It was just another Tuesday on the job, but for two police officers halfway across the country from each other, it would be the last days of their lives.

The rest of us move forward into Wednesday, vowing to make the world a better place.

But we never do.






The Junk Drawer Mystery (Or, The Night The Beatles Hung Out Without Me)

I understand the concept of the junk drawer and welcome it in my life.

Every place I’ve ever hung my hats, I’ve had such a drawer — a place that begins empty and limitless and over time just collects the physical junk of my life.

Tacks, nails, and tools; tape measures and scotch tape; cords and Aloe tubes; lighters and batteries. Just junk.

Then today, while rummaging through my present-day junk drawer, I discovered this:

EggIt’s a green egg with the letter’s EOS embedded into the top. If you twist the egg open, it reveals some sort of mint-smelling lip balm.

The problem?

It’s not mine. I know this because I’m a man’s man and a ChapStick man through and through.

Thus the mystery: Whose is it and what is it doing in my junk drawer?

Most of the junk that goes in my junk drawer I remember — for the most part — putting in there. I might not remember the exact time or day, or for that matter why I tossed something in there — other than the fact it’s just junk — but this I think I would remember.

A green egg, full of lip balm, in my junk drawer.

The mystery, however, grows deeper when you consider my personal life.

Simply put, I don’t really have one.

I work 50 to 60 hours a week, mostly inside, so my lips rarely if ever get chapped. (And, like I said, when they do I turn to the twisting tube, not the twisted egg).

In the nearly eight years that I’ve lived in my current location I have had one woman — not including my landlord — walk into this apartment. Could it be hers?

It could be as I was rather drugged up the day she was here. And while part of me wishes I had some great story to tell you about a Hunter S. Thompson type of escapade in which I hired a hooker for a night of debauchery and fun, alas I can’t.

I was post-surgery last April and coming down off the anesthesia while rising up on the pain medicine the hospital staff had given me. This woman was just a friend who had driven me home and sat with me for the better part of the afternoon until I was clear-headed enough to be left alone.

So it might be hers. (She reads this, so she’ll let me know if it is and I can update, accordingly).

But there is the still the mystery of having absolutely no recollection of ever seeing this egg before this morning, photographing it with my phone and writing this blog post.

So how did it get into my junk drawer and why?

I did some research and found out that EOS lip balm is short for “Evolution of Smooth lip balm.” It can be purchased at any Walgreens — again ruling out the high-priced hooker from a drug-induced night of blackout fun that I simply can’t remember.

(Damn my luck.)

I also discovered, courtesy of that, “Eos brand lip balm can grow black or green mold under some conditions.”

I had a mold problem in my bathroom once. Could the mold have invited more mold over and the egg rolled into my home in an all-out attack of infestation that I had nipped in the bud with some Tilex? The egg would have to hide out until it was ready to escape — perhaps even coming up with a mold-school escape plan, if you will.

The only other plausible explanation is a government bug. I owe the United States of America some back taxes, which I’ve been paying off via yearly payments called my tax return.

Perhaps the tax man cometh and planted it to keep an eye or an ear on me.

But there again it’s an egg, so it must be another kind of man, singing a song we all remember.


“Elementary penguin singing Hare Krishna
Man you should have seen them kicking Edgar Alan Poe
I am the eggman, they are the eggmen
I am the walrus, goo goo goo joob”

That’s it! I have found the explanation and it has a Hunter S. Thompson-like twist.

There were no whores leaving behind the wares of their trade. Mold spores would be a poor excuse and given the fact I live on the second floor there is no way for an egg to roll up a set of stairs. And, I’ve seen enough movies to know the government bug has been placed in the light on by my nightstand and not in my junk draw.

Thus, it was left behind by the Beatles, the night they came over and hung out without me.

Paul? Ringo? I have your egg.

Feel free to stop by anytime to pick it up.

Goo goo goo joob.

It’s The People That Make The Journey

As I trudged into the train and out of the cold, snowy March evening, I found a seat alone, and settled in for the nearly 30 minute ride home.

Almost immediately, before I even removed my gloves and pulled the hood of my sweatshirt from my head, I was drawn in to the woman sitting three seats up, in the opposite aisle, facing both me and the person she was talking to.

Her drawl was unmistakable — she was from the south — and her looks told a tale that led me to think she might once have been in a pageant girl while growing up. I am type-casting her this way — I realize that; embellishing what I do not know as fact, perhaps — but she was a beauty whose journey through life was starting to leave wrinkles on her face, around her eyes and next to her lips when she smiled.

I never said a word to her the whole journey home. Instead, I just listened to her talk to the woman sitting a seat away, picking up bits and pieces of both women’s lives.

I could listen to a southern woman read the phone book and I know I’d fall in love with that accent by the time she read out the name “Abigail Anderson, 917-555-2723.” She was easy to listen to, so that’s what I did. I listened.

She came from the south — Mississippi, to be exact — but she was living in San Francisco, working for an insurance company that had pulled her from home to Hartford, Connecticut, for a two-week training seminar.

She had the weekend to herself and decided to visit relatives she hadn’t seen for a long time in New Jersey.

I assumed this family drove to Hartford and picked her up, taking her back across the George Washington Bridge for a weekend getaway from the papers and lectures of the insurance industry.

Listening to her to talk to the other woman, who was from Bridgeport, I came to learn the snowstorm which descended upon our region on Sunday — the one that came in much worse and much heavier than expected — left her on the verge of being stranded in New Jersey when she had to be back in Hartford by Monday morning.

A weekend in New Jersey is one thing. Any days beyond that and one might feel like they’ll be trapped forever, but the one thing made clear was the family wasn’t about to schlep their distant relative back to Hartford in a snowstorm.

Thus, she was on her own, quite likely undertaking a journey she’ll never forget in a region she didn’t really know.

She was profusely thanking the woman from Bridgeport, a middle-aged black woman with a 17-year-old daughter and two grown sons, and from what I gathered the southern woman from San Francisco was concerned about making this journey alone.

Of course, why wouldn’t she be?

Most of us in the tri-state area would look at a trip from New Jersey to Hartford as rather simple, routine even, be it by car, or by bus, or by train.

A lady alone from the West Coast, however, could certainly find it more daunting.

A train from Jersey into New York City’s Penn Station, a place that could overwhelm any traveler. Then there is a subway ride from Penn State to Grand Central — an underground journey through a foreign city — to an awaiting Metro North train that would take the visitor to New Haven.

It was somewhere in Grand Central — perhaps even on the train itself — the two had found each other and started sharing their stories.

The lady from San Francisco had no idea what she was getting herself into when she first boarded the first train of her journey. She was relying on her own instincts and the kindness of strangers, which in New York City can be like rolling a die and having just a “three” be the only good thing that can happen to you.

She rolled a three and found the woman from Bridgeport, who would guide her through the second phase of her journey — the one from Grand Central to New Haven, where a car was waiting for her to take her back to Hartford.

The black woman lived in Bridgeport, but worked in Portchester, N.Y.. Every day, she took the train — Bridgeport to Stamford, then switching trains to the local — so she could get off and walk to the nursing home where she earned her paycheck, the one that fed her kids and kept a roof over her family’s head.

The woman from San Francisco listened in fascination about a mother’s story of the daily commute her to job.

“I have my license, but I can’t afford a car,” the Bridgeport lady said.

“And it’s not just the car,” San Francisco added. “It’s gas, upkeep, insurance.”

They talked like old friends catching up on each others lives; though they were nothing more than two strangers brought together by happenstance.

As the stops rolled by — Westport, Greens Farms, Southport, Fairfield — I sat silently and eavesdropped on their conversation.

Both women decided a gentlemen sitting next to them had beautiful eyes and if I had been sitting in a bar, nursing a beer in my hand, I’d have sworn they were trying to pick him up.

But this was sincere. This was nice.

Lucky bastard with the nice eyes.

Finally, the train rolled into Bridgeport and it was time for the two of them to part ways.

“Thank you so much,” San Francisco said. “You really set my mind at ease.”

“You’re very welcome, dear,” came the reply. “You have a safe trip the rest of the way.”

She slipped out the door and into the snowy night, back to her daughter, her life, under the roof the commute to Portchester paid for.

The woman from San Francisco looked around the train to see who was left, catching my eye and offering me a smile before burying her face in her phone.

I smiled back and grabbed my gloves. My stop was next.

On my walk toward the door, I wanted to tell her it was always the people that makes a journey so great, but I didn’t.

She had found hers on this journey and didn’t need a second person to interject.

Just like on this short journey home, I had found my people to make it interesting — San Francisco and Bridgeport — two woman talking and making the smallest of differences in each others lives.