Thursday, March 06, 2014

An ex-cop's journey. Or, cock-blocked by non-disclosure



This is an essay about my midlife career crisis.  Because if there’s anything that the literary world needs more of, it’s rambling introspection from a middle aged white man.  It’s titled “An Ex-Cop’s Journey, or: Cock-Blocked by Non-disclosure.”
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I wasn’t always a soft old man with failing eyesight and a debilitating lack of purpose.  No sir.  I used to be cop. Not just a cop—a detective, a detective sergeant, a commander.  A leader, an authority figure to other authority figures…someone who did shit that mattered.  And for a while, I was not just a cop—I was a cop with aspirations of being a writer.

Every cop goes through phases on the job. You’ve got the first couple of years, full of rookie excitement, adrenaline, the thrilling newness of it all.  After a while the new cop smell wears off, and you start to see warts—society’s, your own, and your departments.  You question whether you want to stay where you’re at.  A lot of guys quit after about 5 years; long enough to know the job’s not for them, but not so long that they’re committed to it.  This process repeats itself every 5 years or so.  Each time you either make your way through it, or you’re done.  Done, as in you quit, or you stick around waiting to retire—I’m talking about 10 or 15 years of just being an utterly miserable son of a bitch, doing as little as possible while doing your best at making everyone around you as hateful as you are.  If you’re lucky you find something that renews you.   

I was lucky, and I had a great run. I made detective early, and I got promoted to patrol sergeant.  Just as patrol started to get boring I went back in investigations as a detective sergeant.  Right when that started to wear on me, my kids got me to start blogging.  And then I met writers, people who wrote short stories and poems, and even published novels!  I loved the idea of being a writer, I had stories I wanted to tell.  I wanted to write.  I also had the self-awareness to know I lacked the imagination, creative drive or self-discipline to write fiction.   

Now, what I did have was a good memory, and a good ear for dialogue.  I was surrounded by what you’d call colorful characters.  I met people like the woman at an SRO hotel who said she was “raped annually” by space aliens.  I met Mr. Templeman, a wiry little combative drunk with a steel plate in his head.  He liked to smack himself on the forehead every time he appeared in court, exclaiming to the judge “THEY TOOK PART OF MY BRAIN, YOUR HONOR!”

In 24 years I only got hit in the face, hard, one time, and that was by a naked woman standing on a basketball court.  She announced that she was Wonder Woman right before she slugged me, and then sang Romanian marching songs as she pissed all over the back seat of my squad car.  Police work was a would-be writer’s gold mine.

 In addition to the criminals, dope fiends, and crazy people I met, I had interesting coworkers.  Officers with nicknames like “Biscuit” and “Claybrains.”  One particularly short and unattractive officer, who smelled of cigarettes and old coffee, was a degenerate skirt chaser.  We called him “the Tripod.”  

There were coworkers, almost always supervisors or command staff, who clearly showed signs of diagnosable mental illness.  I’m not talking about the depression, paranoia, and alcoholism that one usually associates with a career in policing.  I’m talking about frightening bipolar mood swings that earned one commander the nickname “Prozac.”  Then there was this one deputy chief who… well, wait.  

Now that I have a captive audience, please indulge me for a moment and allow me to read a rejected Six Sentences piece that I wrote a few years ago.  I called this “Heavy.”

Tommy got where he was because he was heavy; not fat heavy mind you, but clout heavy.  His old man was a buddy of the mayor, and the mayor was nothing if not loyal, so Tommy had a job at the department that didn’t demand much.  He always would, too—even if he didn’t have what it took to get on the job he could always answer a phone or press a transmit button.  Tommy was pretty happy with his job, until one day when he walked into the men’s room off the lobby.  The Deputy Chief, whose office was nearby, was standing there—pants down around his thighs—vigorously washing his scrotum in the sink.  Tommy stood frozen, briefly, just inside the doorway as they made eye contact, and for a moment Tommy wished he’d never had any clout at all.

Now this brings me to the whole “cock-blocked by non-disclosure” part.  I was enjoying my blog, and spouting off on Twitter.  I got promoted to Commander, and a condition of the promotion was that I stop blogging for Chicago Now.  Since blogging doesn’t really add much to the pension, I happily agreed.  I kept notes, eagerly awaiting the opportunity to return to some public forum in the future.  Then I retired.  I retired from policing, and took another job with a government agency which I will not, and must not name here.  I signed a bunch of non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements, and I went to work with … lawyers.  Very. Serious.  Lawyers.

Yeah.  I worked on a murder task force for three years, and I guess it was just assumed that I’d have the sense not to reveal sensitive information.  Now I do what are called administrative investigations—I don’t carry a gun, no one gets arrested, and our investigations result not in indictments, but in strongly worded recommendations—but by God, I will not discuss these matters.

Let me say this: in the environment I work in now, I am without a doubt surrounded by the most professional, best educated coworkers I’ve ever worked with.  It’s a reasonably pleasant place, devoid of bad smells and body fluids and people screaming at one another.  I have a cubicle.  It is killing me.

To illustrate a key difference in my circumstances, the place where I used to work promoted a man who thought it was completely acceptable, during business hours, to drop trou and scrub his turkey neck in the sink of a public bathroom.  Now I work with people who, without a trace of humor, argue whether it’s correct to use “fax” or “facsimile” in a report.  It is dry.  In my past life I may have been surrounded by maniacs, thugs, and oddballs, but there were always a lot of laughs.  Now, not so much.

I’ve taken to using the word “lawyer” as a verb.  Someone will ask me, “hey, has your report been approved yet?” I’ll answer “naw, it’s still getting lawyered."  As in, there’s a bunch of lawyers reading it, sending drafts of it back and forth until all the multi colored tracked changes make it look like the world’s most linear and punctilious spirograph. 
Remember in 1998 when Bill Clinton was president, and he had to testify to a grand jury about Monica Lewinsky? Clinton famously replied to one question, quote: “It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is.”  At the time, I remember thinking: Slick Willie indeed.  Now, I’m like, yeah—that, my friends, is a lawyer.  

I have experienced lengthy, earnest discussions as to whether a truck should be described as lime green, neon yellow, lime yellow, or OSHA safety green.  To my mind, the most important question—why does this fucking matter in the first place—remains unasked.  In another instance, an attorney asked if a job title used a “one” with a number, or a “one” with a Roman numeral.  Different documents used the two titles interchangeably, and at least a half hour was spent discussing how we would address this issue in our own reports, so as to remain consistent.  I’m waiting to see how this one plays out. 

By the way—in case you’re wondering?  Yes, I am, in fact, beating up on lawyers.  Why?  Because lawyers are the only occupation easier to beat up on than cops.

Oh, and there are emails.  Good lord, the emails.  When I was struggling with writing this, I briefly considered simply using a series of official emails, verbatim.  That would have been a brutal experience for all of us.

Our break room microwave has been the subject of more than one scolding email from a high-ranking attorney:

Dear Staff:
Whoever left 2:09 minutes on the microwave after heating their lunch which had some sort of red tomato or spaghetti sauce, also left the microwave caked with red sauce –
We are all adults here who have (or should have at least once) cleaned up after themselves.
This office is not your home. Please be respectful of other staff and clean up your mess.

Dear Staff:
I would like the next person who needs to use the agency microwave to clean it first.
Then, any future users who use it should make sure it is clean after they use it.
The building crew and staff are not responsible for cleaning out our microwave and despite my asking staff keep it clean, staff continues to use and leave it filthy. That is very unprofessional and unacceptable. Those who regularly use the microwave please be sure to print out this email if you believe you might forget to clean out the microwave after you use it, today, tomorrow and anytime in the future.

There are office security issues. I have redacted certain parts to comply with, to the best of my ability, my non-disclosure requirements.

Would the staff member who left room REDACTED open today please stop by my office – It was open, unlocked and unattended at 2:50 pm, although I’m not sure for how long.  

Dear Staff:
I will wait until REDACTED to allow the staff person who left the door to room REDACTED unlocked and unsecure (around 2 pm last Friday, REDACTED) to stop by my Office.  If the responsible staff does not stop by, we will be making changes to how staff access room REDACTED.

Evidently the author of the email was the only person in the office who did not know that the door to room REDACTED could be opened at any time by slipping the lock with an ID card.  Changes to staff access have been made, and the door to room REDACTED now has extra locks, and is finally secure.

So, now what?

Occasionally I think about writing again.  I get home after a full day of staring at a computer screen, scrolling through hundreds of pages of badly scanned documents, writing endless reports and emails and memoranda... 

For now it's easier to pop open a beer, and dream about the future.  By this time next year I aim to be gone from here, surrounded by fresh air, hillbillies and farm animals.  I believe writing will wait until then.

2 comments:

Marni Hicks said...

I have missed your writing. Please come back... soon.

SkylersDad said...

I have missed reading you, and look forward to your return!