The holiday shopping season is in full swing, and the town I work for has a lot of retail stores, and that means that every boosting, wallet-stealing, purse-snatching, identity thieving, check-writing, forging, scamming, credit card swiping asshole in the greater Chicagoland area is out doing his or her thing.
We went out tonight trying to find a woman who stole about $20,000 from her employer; the case is several months old but we just got her bank records this week. No luck finding her tonight. Another of our detectives followed up a lead on a wallet theft when he found out that someone used the victim's credit card at a mall in a neighboring town. When he went to that store to view their security video tonight, who do you think walked into the store to do some more shopping? That's right--his offenders, children in tow. Always a treat. Another one of our guys had to attend two autopsies this week, and I can tell you that the chemical tang of the morgue is no way to wake up in the morning.
The domestic disturbances always take on a different tone at this time of the year, ranging from sad to surreal to tragic. Two nights ago I took a call from a neighboring department. Their officers went on a domestic involving a mom and her teenage daughter. The family are repeat customers, and when the officers arrived daughter was on the floor, screaming and out of control. She and mom were arguing over the daughter visiting a friend that mom doesn't approve of (the friend is a coke user according to mom). The daughter called mom around 11pm asking for a ride home; because of who she was with, mom expressed her disapproval by telling the kid to get home on her own. This happened the night before the domestic, and for whatever reason mom and daughter didn't start up with each other until the next day. Eventually the kid was taken to the hospital for a psych evaluation, and somewhere in all this she blurted out that she was the victim of an attempted sexual assault while she was walking home (thanks mom!) The officers determined that it happened in our town, so they called us. We went to the hospital to talk to the girl, and there were some big gaps in her story--we couldn't pin down an exact address. We asked her if she'd be willing to get in the car with us and retrace her route so we could pinpoint the address where it happened, and she agreed. Along the way we also learned that she'd been the victim of sexual assault before--at the hands of her own father, for roughly 7 years. The girl was admitted to a psych ward and our investigation is on hold until she's released.
No Christmas trees have been hurled through the front windows yet...give it a couple of weeks.
So, what do you do? How do you keep your spirits up in the face of all this? I'm not big on religious platitudes and "God's will" type reassurances, so that's out. I do believe in prayer, and I do that as well as I can. My prayers all take one of two basic forms: "thank you", or "please help me/please help (fill in your name here)". I focus on my family and friends, and I literally count my blessings several times a day. I run for no particular reason. I read your blogs, and I am entertained and encouraged. I look forward to socializing with some of you later this month. I work hard to remember that the world is full of good people who do good things.
And I think about Bettie Page.
See, there's a few different kinds of Christmases:
1) There's the traditional religious Christmas, the birth of the Christ child. There's some awesome symbolism there, but frankly that's beyond my ability to truly comprehend or talk about in any kind of articulate or intelligent manner. I really wish I had the faith and knowledge to do so.
2) There's the truly awful and overwhelming CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY SEASON, a vulgar blend of the worst sentimentalism, religiosity and corporate bombast. Oh, and patriotism, too, because God loves our nation best at Christmas time. It's Christmas music being piped in above the din of the slot machines in Las Vegas casinos, it's the endless chain emails showing the wreaths at Arlington cemetery with some mawkish "prayer" tacked on to the photos and some waving American flag animations attached because the simple imagery of the tombs at Arlington at Christmas isn't enough, it's all that shit Charlie Brown and Linus Van Pelt warned us about way back in 1965.
3) Then you've got the vaguely spiritual, well-meaning "holiday season", the idea that, for Christian, Jew, Muslim and everyone else, this is some special time of year when we all try and do just a little better, when we all try and behave just a little more kindly to our fellow man. It's the mercy and good works and redemption without the heavy religious baggage. It's war movies where the soldiers stop fighting and meet with each other in no-man's land for few short hours in December. It's the sense that we're all in this together. It's heartwarming stories about mysterious strangers dropping $100 coins in the Salvation Army buckets. It's George Bailey.
I've been trying to inhabit a slightly different holiday season. It acknowledges #1 without being strident about it. It veers dangerously close, at times, to # 2 but never crosses the line. It's got a lot in common with #3 without being bland or wishy-washy. It's the holiday season of doing a few good deeds, of being thankful for family and friends, of forgiveness, it's the holiday season of cocktail parties plain and swanky, of decorating Christmas trees, enjoying simple pleasures like freshly-baked cookies and homemade candy, of acknowledging that the newest and shiniest is not always the best. It's kind of retro. It's hokey at times, but in a good way. It has faith but doesn't shove it in your face. It avoids cynicism. It's about doing your best, and trying to make others happy. It's playful. And it keeps me going.
Like Bettie Page in a Santa hat.