Friday, June 19, 2015

My Confederate Flag

I have a Confederate flag in my basement.

No, it’s not hanging on the wall over my gun cabinet. It’s folded up and wrapped in plastic in a box, along with a bunch of WW2 era newspapers that my grandmother gave to me as a child. My grandmother told me that flag had “flown over Richmond.” 

Not long after I received this gift, my family took me to visit the Confederate Museum in Richmond, VA, and a staff member looked at the flag. He determined, based on the grommets and stitching, that the flag was not Civil War era, but likely from the early 1900’s. It wasn’t a real Civil War flag; it was manufactured at least 35 years after the war was over. 

According to my grandmother, one of my forebears served in the 10th Kentucky Cavalry CSA. Looking back, Granny was a wealth of Lost Cause mythology, and I loved the stories. I’m not entirely joking when I say I was nine or ten years old before I realized the south lost the Civil War. As a boy I was enthralled by the sad nobility of the Lost Cause-- the gallant cavalry charges, outnumbered southerners repeatedly out-soldiering Yankee invaders until overwhelmed by the industrial might of the Union. My grandmother stressed that our family did not own slaves.

It was all bullshit.

I did not easily arrive at that conclusion. Granny turned me into something of a Civil War buff, and the vast majority of the books I read reinforced, to some degree, the Lost Cause narrative. I took up reading Civil War histories again about 20 years ago, and I learned that the preservation of slavery was indeed the central tenet of the Confederacy. 

Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy, in his Cornerstone Speech, said this: “Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.” 

I also learned that Union generals weren’t as incompetent as I’d been taught, and Confederate generals weren’t as brilliant. It's embarrassing to admit that, for a while, this part bothered me more.

Why did my ancestor fight? His home, Kentucky, was a border state that contributed more than twice as many soldiers to the Union cause than to the Confederacy. Was he swayed by a convincing speech, or persuaded by a good friend? Did he believe Kentucky belonged in the Confederacy? Perhaps, in fighting for the Confederacy, he did the wrong thing for (as it seemed to him) right reasons. In that case he’s not different from young men throughout history who’ve been duped and enlisted into fighting wars in which they should have had no cause. 

Why did my grandmother have that flag, and what did it mean to her? I believe that, in most cases, we should not judge past generations too harshly, based on our more complete knowledge and progressive views. My grandmother was born in 1909. I’ll assume her love of that flag resulted from stories of a relative’s wartime heroism, and a misplaced Gone With the Wind style nostalgia for a past that never existed.

I don’t know for sure about either of them, and I never will.

Here’s what I do know. It doesn’t really matter what the Confederate flag meant to my grandmother, or my Confederate ancestor, or to me. I know that for African Americans it will always be a symbol of enslavement and oppression. I cannot imagine the pain it causes to see it flying from a government building, or incorporated into a state flag as in Mississippi or Georgia. For those who would offer some version of the "it’s not hate, it’s heritage" argument, I would ask this: why does the symbol of your “heritage” continue to be employed with such enthusiasm by self-avowed white supremacists? Does it not make you feel at least a little…ashamed?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy Mother's Day!

If there's one thing we believe in strongly, it's motherhood. It's right up there with our love of marriage, preparedness, gun ownership, hillbilly music and fried catfish.

So, for all you moms out there:

Happy Mother's Day!

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.”

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.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

My First Prostitute

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Sunday, April 01, 2012

Thank you, and God bless you all!

Well, this is a difficult post to write. I'm so full of love for all of you right now, bursting with it, and have so many things that I want to say...but I'll try and make this brief.

5 years, 11 months, and 25 days ago I started a blog to have some fun, reach out to people and entertain myself. Along the way I landed a blogging gig with ChicagoNow, and even got on the radio a few times. It's been a blast, and I can't thank you guys enough for reading, commenting and re-tweeting over the years..

Lately, though, I've felt something missing in my life. I realized that too much of my time and energy was being spent in what was, ultimately, a rather shallow series of clown jokes, stories about weenie-wavers, and self-satisfied crowing about how much I ate and drank. I've also become less satisfied with my career as a law enforcement officer. For some time now I've spent hours thinking about how I could better live a life of service, compared to the well-paid and complacent civil servant's life I now lead.

I have wrestled with both demons and Lincoln's "better angels" of my nature. And I have made a decision. A trip down south affected me in a profound, and I hope lasting, way.

This is my last blog post.

I have taken a leave of absence from my job, pending my retirement. I have purchased a used Dodge minivan and converted it to a makeshift camper. I
had hoped to buy a mobile home in which to travel the shining gospel way, but it didn't work out.

On Monday I will be driving south to New Orleans where I will be joining a recently-formed street ministry, the Good News Living Statue Ministry. I ran into some of these folks during a trip to New Orleans, as several of them acted out the Stations of the Cross around Jackson Square. As I stumbled out of a nearby daiquiri stand and crashed into one of the soldiers scourging the Christ, I felt a profound sense of disorientation and longing, and knew I'd been truly touched.

The GNLSM ministers mostly to gutter punks, street performers and tourists in the French Quarter. They do so mainly by acting out various Gospel passages while spray-painted gold or silver, in the manner of many New Orleans street performers. I was moved by the depth and intensity of their devotion to the Gospel, as well as to the art of living statue performance. They are truly Godly people, and other than a brief (but ugly) confrontation with a group of traveling Clowns for Christ, I have found them to be beyond reproach. I have signed on to act as a fry cook and go-fer for the troupe until I "learn the ropes" as a living statue and New Testament reenactor.

My beautiful wife and children, while not fully comprehending my decision, are nevertheless pretty much supportive of it. They will remain here performing earthly duties such as bill payment and home maintenance while I carry out God's work down south. They are my rock.

Please pray for me, as I will for all of you. God bless you all!

Monday, February 27, 2012


From my new favorite website: Crappy Taxidermy

Enjoy, kids.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day is there for a reason

"Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

--John 15:13

"That damned hero stuff is a bunch crap, I guess...You gotta understand that there's all kinds of heroes, but they never get a chance to be in a hero's position."

--John William Finn was the nation's oldest living Medal of Honor winner. He died on May 27, 2010.

One of my regular beefs, which my wife and kids have long since tired of hearing, is this:

Holidays like Memorial Day and Veteran's Day exist for a reason. It's not just a day off school or work, or an occasion to picnic. For years I have felt that our schools don't do a good job of teaching the history of the holiday, or imparting the proper sense of respect. Memorial Day, in particular, gets watered down into a broad, hazy day of remembrance. People need to understand that Memorial Day exists for the sole purpose of honoring our war dead.

There are many of them. Since November 2001, more than 209 Illinois citizens have died in combat. They came from all over the state, from varying backgrounds, men and women alike. What they all have in common is that they died in our service, and they are deserving of our deepest gratitude and respect.

Memorial Day was originally called "Decoration Day", and was first observed on May 30, 1868. It was first officially proclaimed by Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, General John A. Logan. Yes, that's the same Logan that Logan Square and Logan Boulevard are named after.

Every year since 2000, there is a National Moment of Remembrance at 3pm. It's a good time to observe a moment of silence, or say a short prayer, both for our fallen and for the families they left behind.

If you want to be deeply humbled, or inspired, visit the website for the Congressional Medal of Honor, and read some of the citations.

For everyone who serves, or who has served, and to the families of all those men and women, I say thank you.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Law Enforcement Quote of the Week: naked dump truck edition

"It's a tense situation when someone enters your home in a one-ton dump truck."
-South Berwick, Maine Police Chief Dana Lajoie, referring to an incident in which 24-year-old Eli T. Hutchins crashed his Ford pickup truck into a condominium. Naked.

According to this story, Mr. Hutchins " drove over lawns and driveways until he hit the structure" after leaving another unit in the complex.

This brief piece from gives us a little more insight, reporting that Mr. Hutchins left a nearby party after getting into a fight before embarking on his naked drive. During the fight, reportedly started by Hutchins, he was struck in the head with a hammer.

Alcohol was involved.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Return of the Sunday Afternoon Cocktail

Probably the most deliciously difficult thing about today's Sunday Afternoon Cocktail was sipping through the two or three variations my bride went through before settling on her final version. First it was a bit too much blueberry schnapps; then it was the unfortunate inky appearance that the muddled blueberries imparted. Lucky for me, she worked it out, and here we are:

The Blue Moon of Kentucky cocktail (serves 2):

In a cocktail shaker or large glass measuring cup:

-muddle ½ cup of blueberries with a ¼ cup of triple sec & a tablespoon of lemon juice. Let sit for 15 minutes (at least)

Add 1 ½ oz of blueberry schnapps (DeKuyper)

-Add 1/3 cup bourbon

-Strain, pour over ice in a tall glass, garnish with fresh blueberries and lemon peel