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
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…
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:
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.
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
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.
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.