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Candies and cakes.

Eggnog too.

Turkey, ham, and stuffing.

Pumpkin pie.

Gingerbread and chocolate fudge.

 

Family and friends.

A warm fire.

Dancing flames.

Sizzling cedar logs.

Stockings hanging from above.

 

Family dog.

Sleeping at their feet.

Cookies and milk.

Kids laugh and squeal.

Silent wishes and hopeful dreams.

 

Home.

Surrounded by those I love.

How I long to be there.

 

Pepper spray and handcuffs.

Puking smelly drunks.

Radios and TASERS.

Spouses, battered and bruised.

Black eyes and broken bones.

 

Tiny tots and tears.

And drug dealers and thieves.

Sad, pitiful kids.

No toys.

No place to sleep.

 

Home.

Surrounded by those I love.

How I long to be there.

 

Crack pipes burning.

No food, no heat.

Gunshots and stabbings.

Car crashes and suicides.

Ambulances, hospitals, and morgues.

 

Crying.

Hurting.

Bleeding.

Dying.

Gone.

 

Home.

Thankful that I have one.

Aren’t you?

 

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night …

A general rule of thumb is to not begin a tale with the weather. I know this and humbly apologize for violating protocol. It’s just that the elements are such a crucial part of this story and, well, please bear with me for a moment as I take you back to an honest-to-goodness dark and stormy Christmas Eve.

I was working for a sheriff’s office at the time, patrolling a county that sits smack-dab in the middle of the north-south I-95 drug corridor. Needless to say, crime, especially violent crime, was quite commonplace.

In those days, I drove a hand-me-down Crown Vic with a light bar that had a mind of its own. Sometimes the rotating beacons turned and sometimes they didn’t, with the latter occurring more frequently during cold weather. In fact, it wasn’t unusual for me to respond to an emergency with the gas pedal mashed to the floorboard, the siren screaming like a cat with its tail caught in the ringer of grandma’s antique washer, and me with my arm out the window banging my fist on the side of the light bar hoping to set it in motion. It often took a good two miles and ten whacks with the heel of my fist before the initial barely-turning speed of the lights caught up with the seriousness of the situation at hand.

Believe me, there’s nothing more frustrating than driving at warp speed while your emergency lights rotate at the speed of drying paint. But, if the call was far enough away the lights eventually caught up with the direness of what could be and often was.

Christmas Eve calls, for the most part, were an eclectic mix of complaints and incidents, ranging from window peepers to drunk uncles high on too much eggnog, to crooks who preferred to do their last minute shopping after the stores were closed and tightly locked until the day after Christmas. And, of course, there were murders and robberies, calls that necessitated the use of those darn lights.

Blowing Wind and Freezing Temps

It was this one particular Christmas Eve that comes to mind, though. The one when the wind blew so hard that traffic lights hung horizontally instead of their typical right angles to the streets. Gusty breezes toppled garbage cans and sent them clanging and banging and rolling and tumbling across asphalt and concrete. Dried leaves clicked and ticked and swirled in masses as they made their way down avenues and boulevards and through intersections without regard for red lights or stop signs, continuing on through alleys and across lawns and driveways. The lighted sign at the bank on the corner of Broad and 14th blinked between the current time and a steady temperature of five degrees. Believe me, it was cold enough to make a snowman shiver.

For warmth, homeless people camping under the overpasses and down by the river burned scraps of broken pallets and whatever twigs, branches, and tree limbs they could find. Many of them had no real winter clothing—no coats, parkas, gloves, or wool caps. Instead, they added extra layers of filthy, soiled clothing over their already grimy attire. They used socks to cover their hands and they draped old army blankets or blue furniture movers’ pads over their heads and shivering bodies.

Ridley Perkins

And then there was Ridley Perkins, a homeless man who’d been around the city for so long that his name and/or face was quite well-known by many of the locals. He was also a regular visitor to the city jail. Corrections officers, men who’d “seen it all,” shied away from Ridley when it came time for him to be strip searched. No one wanted the job of watching him peel off layer after layer of grunge-caked clothing. After all, Perkins’ body odor alone was enough to gag anyone, and it was not unusual to find live maggots squirming around in his soiled underwear or on his skin.

Ridley never committed any real crimes—he didn’t steal, rob, or burgle. He was a beggar by trade and a darn good one too. And he knew how to successfully transform a dollar into alcohol. Not the kind consumed by most drinkers, though. Ridley preferred to strain his alcohol from canned heat (Sterno), or to drink mouthwash or shaving lotion. And, when the last drop was gone he’d do something to annoy a business owner or scare a woman or child by lunging at them from behind a bush—his way of going to jail where he’d get a hot meal and warm bed.

The Christmas Present

Okay, I know, I strayed from the story. Let’s see, where was I? Oh, yeah … Christmas Eve. I’d made a pass around my section of the county and had returned to the office to warm my bones with a cup of jailhouse coffee (so thick you could almost stand a spoon upright in the center of the mug) and to back my hind-end against a hot radiator. Even my long-johns, Kevlar, and jacket were no match against the cold that night.

After I’d thawed out, I’d settled into a seat and was skimming through newspaper headlines when someone pressed the buzzer out at the main gate. One of the on-duty jailers pushed the “talk” button on the intercom and said, “Whadda you want, Perkins?” I glanced over at the monitor and saw Ridley holding a round object up toward the camera. It appeared to be a ball of some sort. He pushed the outside talk button and said, “I brung you something. A Christmas present.”

The jailer, a soft-hearted older man, slipped on his jacket and said he was going out to try and talk Ridley into going to a shelter for the night, something Ridley rarely did. He despised their “no tolerance for alcohol rule.” Before going out, the jailer poured some hot coffee into a Styrofoam cup and took it with him to give to his visitor.

A few minutes later the jailer returned with an orange, saying Ridley told him that he’d used some of his begging proceeds to buy it for him as a Christmas present. He claimed to have done so because the jailer had always been kind to him and treated him like a man and not as a criminal, or a drunk. We both knew that chances were good that he’d either stolen the orange from a local grocer or that someone had given it to him. But that he’d brought it to the jailer was still a kind gesture.

Ridley accepted the coffee from the jailer, and the advice about the shelter, and then headed off into the cold. He ambled past the reach of the camera, and that was the last time anyone saw him alive.

I found Ridley’s body the next night, inside an old abandoned car. He’d apparently gone there to get away from the wind and the blowing snowfall that had started up in the early morning hours. Hypothermia had claimed his life. He’d frozen to death.

On the floorboard near Ridley’s hand were an empty Styrofoam cup and a small pile of orange peelings.

*This is a true story, however, the name Ridley Perkins is fictitious.

 

The call—a child in need of services.

What I found was a child in need of love.

His house, held together by random lengths of mismatched clapboard-siding, sat at the end of a hard-packed red clay path. Shreds of tar-paper and rusted tin covered some, but not all, of a rain-blackened plywood roof. Four white, spray-painted cinder-blocks served as a front stoop.

The front door had no knob or lock, just a curved metal handle, worn slick from years of pulling and pushing. A brick propped against its bottom held the door closed. Someone, I’m not sure who, “locked it” when they left.

I knocked.

“Come in,” a little voice said.

It was just days before Christmas and there was no tree.

No presents.

No food.

No running water.

No cabinets. No stove.

No refrigerator. No beds.

No drywall. No insulation.

Just bare studs and rafters.

And cold.

Lots of cold.

A small dented and soot-caked kerosene heater fought a losing battle against a brutal December evening. Two milk jugs used for holding fuel sat near the splintered front door. Both empty. The heater’s gauge rested at one notch above E. The weak orange flame would soon fade away. The temperature outside was 20, and dropping. The wind persistently forced its way through cracks and holes in the walls, floor, and open spaces around the door and windows.

The place was not much more than a shed. One cobbled together from scrap wood and discarded “whatevers.”

A tattered blanket and two patchwork quilts. Threadbare and slick from wear.

No winter coats. No hats, nor gloves.

Dirty window panes.

One missing, replaced by a square of cardboard.

Dish towel curtains.

A hardware store calendar, two years old.

A cooler with no lid.

Mom, passed out on the floor.

A bottle of bourbon, its contents long gone.

A pipe for crack smoking.

“Mama says daddy will come home … someday.”

A dog. All ribs and backbone.

The floor, bare.

No rugs, no toys. ­

A table.

Two chairs.

A book.

Some paper.

The boy, writing.

Cigarettes.

A saucer for ashes, overflowing with discarded butts.

A deck of ragged playing cards.

Roaches. Scurrying up, down, there and here.

Mouse. Unafraid.

A squalling baby.

The bugs, they’re there, too.

The stench.

A tin lard bucket in the corner.

A checkered cloth on top.

A half-empty roll of Scotts.

The only bathroom indoors.

“You writing a letter?”

A nod.

“To your Dad?”

“No, to Santa.”

“Mind if I have look?”

He held it up for me to see.

“Your handwriting is very nice.”

A smile.

“Dear Santa,

Don’t worry about the bicycle I asked for.

Or the Tonka trucks and new coat.

And I don’t even like video games anymore.

Or DVD’s and toy trains.

I’m too big for those things now.

‘Sides, some men came and took the TV. Said Mama couldn’t pay for it no more. The ‘lectric neither.

What I’d really like is a warm blanket for my brother. He needs some milk too. And some medicine to make his fever go away. And could you help my Mom some? She needs to stop drinking and smoking. I wish you could make those men leave her alone too. They get all lickered up and hit her and do things to her that make her cry. Maybe you could bring my mom a coat for Christmas this year. She don’t have one and she gets cold when she walks down the street to get her cigarettes and that other stuff she smokes.

And if you don’t mind too much could you bring my daddy something to eat. He don’t never have no money. And if you see God while you’re up there flying around please tell him to say hi to my baby sister. And ask him to tell her I’m sorry I couldn’t make Mama wake up and take her to the hospital. If you can do all that, don’t worry about bringing me nothing. That stuff will do just fine.”

Your friend,

Jimmy Lee Bailey

*Jimmy Lee Bailey was definitely in need of some love. So, when Christmas morning rolled around he got his Tonka trucks, a bicycle, and a new coat. He also enjoyed a nice meal before moving to his new home. All courtesy of the guys who patrolled the graveyard shift.

 

The Twelve Nights Of Graveyard

On the first night of graveyard my sergeant gave to me, a car-tri-idge and a cuff key.

On the second night of graveyard my sergeant gave to me, two ghetto whores and a car-tri-idge and a cuff key.

On the third night of graveyard my sergeant gave to me, three stinky winos, two ghetto whores, and a car-tri-idge and a cuff key.

On the fourth night of graveyard my sergeant gave to me, four calls from wackos, three stinky winos, two ghetto whores, and a car-tri-idge and a cuff key.

12 days of graveyard

On the fifth night of graveyard my sergeant gave to me, five … cans … of … pepper-spray, four calls from wackos, three stinky winos, two ghetto whores, and a car-tri-idge and a cuff key.

On the sixth night of graveyard my sergeant gave to me, six drunks a-peeing,  five … cans … of … pepper-spray, four calls from wackos, three stinky winos, two ghetto whores, and a car-tridge and a cuff key.

On the seventh night of graveyard my sergeant gave to me, seven robbers running, six drunks a-peeing, five … cans … of … pepper-spray, four calls from wackos, three stinky winos, two ghetto whores, and a car-tri-idge and a cuff key.

On the eighth night of graveyard my sergeant gave to me, eight maids embezzling, seven robbers running, six drunks a-peeing, five … cans … of … pepper-spray, four calls from wackos, three stinky winos, two ghetto whores, and a car-tri-idge and a cuff key.

On the ninth night of graveyard my sergeant gave to me, nine ladies fighting, eight maids embezzling, seven robbers running, six drunks a peeing, five … cans … of … pepper-spray, four calls from wackos, three stinky winos, two ghetto whores, and a car-tri-idge and a cuff key.

On the tenth night of graveyard my sergeant gave to me, ten perverts peeping, nine ladies fighting, eight maids embezzling, seven robbers running, six drunks a-peeing, five … cans … of … pepper-spray, four calls from wackos, three stinky winos, two ghetto whores, and a car-tri-idge and a cuff key.

Peeping Tom

On the eleventh night of graveyard my sergeant gave to me, eleven crackheads smoking, ten perverts peeping, nine ladies fighting, eight maids embezzling, seven robbers running, six drunks a-peeing, five … cans … of … pepper-spray, four calls from wackos, three stinky winos, two ghetto whores, and a car-tri-idge and a cuff key.

On the twelfth night of graveyard my sergeant gave to me, twelve hours of overtime, eleven crackheads smoking, ten perverts peeping, nine ladies fighting, eight maids embezzling, seven robbers running, six drunks a-peeing, five … cans … of … pepper-spray, four calls from wackos, three stinky winos, two ghetto whores, and a car-tri-idge … and … a … cuff … keeey.

 

It was on a cold Christmas night, several years ago, when my wife Denene decided that she’d like to ride along with me during my shift so we could at least spend a part of the evening together. It would be her first and last first-hand experience of what I did for a living.

I was the officer in charge of operations, the OIC, that night so it wasn’t as if I’d be responding to calls, meaning I thought the danger level for her would be extremely low. And I was right, the evening shift was fairly quiet with a few of the typical pushing and shoving drunks, a couple of thefts, a drunk driver or two, a peeping Tom, a disorderly customer at a convenience store, etc. Nothing major.

I took Denene on a tour of parts of the city she’d never seen, and to a few she had but only during the daytime. Believe me, some typically normal neighborhoods totally transform once the sun is down and all the “creepies” come out to play. It’s the time when neon lights replace sunshine, and when alleyways come alive with feral animals and people who pay for quickie sex behind dented dumpsters overflowing with restaurant waste and wet, slimy butcher shop cardboard and paper.

These are the streets and neighborhoods where wispy tendrils of sewer steam rise from storm drains to twist and writhe their way toward the night sky, floating and undulating until they melt into nothingness. Potholes are deep and overturned garbage cans pour out their innards for all to see. Front yards are bare dirt and sofas and used kitchen chairs sit on front porches featuring leaning posts and broken railings. At the curb laying at either side of the streets are empty beer cans and bottles and used needles and condoms mixed with dry, crispy fall leaves.

In the area sometimes called “The Bottom, prostitutes display their wares in barely-there outfits while local businessmen, average Joes and sometimes Janes, and a few city officials cruise along the dark streets comparing the “merchandise.”

Winos and drug addicts are on their aimless and zombie-like marches, stumbling along cold concrete walks and streets until they finally decide upon a random landing spot in a storefront entrance where they smoke, drink rotgut liquor, or shoot poison into their arms or legs. Then they’ll sleep awhile before setting off on another mindless quest for the next high.

Drug runners, the low-level, bottom of the drug-selling chain, sellers of crack, meth, heroin, and weed, are at nearly every corner in the “hot” neighborhoods. Many times they damage the corner street lamps by throwing rocks at the bulbs, or by shooting them out, so they can operate under the cover of darkness.

Runners stand alone or in small groups of three or so with each holding only a small amount of dope so not much will be lost should a cop bust them. Users cruise the areas in their cars, driving slowly. When the runner spots a customer he approaches the vehicle. The driver hands over cash ($20 for a single crack rock) and the runner offers the drug. Sometimes he keeps the foil or plastic-wrapped rock in his mouth so he could easily swallow it in case the “customer” is a cop. He’ll spit the wrapped rock into his hand to exchange for the cash.

When the runners sell out they head back to the dealers to “re-up.” The process repeats hour after hour, night after night after night. The runners are always at ready to take off should an officer approach. It’s a cat and mouse game that’s played again and again—we get out of our cars and they run. We chase. They drop the dope and an occasional gun. We pick up the stuff and maybe catch the guy or maybe not.

So after seeing enough of the rot of the city, I drove to areas where officers were on the scenes of various calls/complaints, making sure all was well. Then the radio crackled with an “officer needs assistance” call. She’d stopped a car for drunk driving and the driver refused to get out of his vehicle. She’d struggled with him a bit, through the car window, but had no luck. In fact, he’d spit at her and attempted to bite her. He’d struck her arms with his fist and tried to punch her face.

So off I went to see the trouble for myself. Other officers were on the way to assist. When Denene and I arrived two officers were at the driver’s window grabbing at the man and striking at his arms with batons. A third officer was standing at the passenger window preparing to break the glass. I told Denene I’d be right back (the equivalent to “Hold my beer”) and stepped out of my car.

Since I’d trained each of the on-scene” officers in defensive tactics during their time at the academy, and the fact that I owned my own gym and martial arts school, and because I the ranking officer on the scene, well, they’d assumed that I’d handle this situation. So they parted to allow me access to the driver.

I politely informed the wild and drunken and very large man that he had two options. One, remove his seat belt and get out of the car on his on. Two, I’d cause him intense pain while removing him from the car, through the window. When he spit at me it was my conclusion that he’d opted for choice number two.

A few seconds later, after inflicting quite a bit of pain (I knew this because he was squealing and squawking like a wounded animal), I pulled his fat rear end through the seatbelt and through the window (with his helpful assistance since he wanted the pain to stop sooner than asap), pulled him to the ground, spun him around and over using a wrist-turn-out. I then cuffed his hands behind his back.

I told the female officer who’d initially stopped the car to place my handcuffs in the box outside my office door when she’d cleared from processing the man. I then turned and walked back to my car where I nonchalantly asked Denene if she’d like to grab a cup of coffee. Only a minute or two had passed since I first stepped out of my unmarked Caprice.

She said, “How can you be so calm after such a violent event? And how in the world did you get that big man to fit through that window and all so quickly?”

I, like every officer out there, didn’t think twice about it. It’s what we/they do, those sorts of things—pulling grown men through car windows and the like. It’s part of the job, like editing is to a writer.

Yes, it was Christmas and we were together. But she never again rode with me.

She eventually stopped listening the police scanner we had at the house. She switched it off one night, for the final time, after hearing me tell other officers that “I’d go in first.”

Yeah, she’s much happier since writing about this stuff is a WHOLE lot safer …


Aikido

Aikido uses the attacker’s own force against him.

A wrist turnout applies intense pressure to the joint in the wrist, forcing the suspect off balance.

Proper grasp to begin the wrist turnout (Kotegaeshi Nage) technique. To complete the technique the officer maintains his grasp, rotates the suspect’s hand up and to the rear in a counter-clockwise motion while simultaneously stepping back with his (the officer) left leg. The suspect ends up on the floor on his back (see picture below). Any resistance inflcts excrutiating pain in the wrist, elbow, and shoulder.

Combative suspects are normally forced the ground for handcuffing. From this position, a quick turn of the suspect’s wrist and arm will force him to roll over on his stomach. Any resistance causes extreme pain and could severely injure the controlled wrist, elbow, and shoulder.

To effectively control the wrist, the elbow must be stationary. From this position, the suspect is easily handcuffed.

This wrist lock can cause intense pain in the wrist, the elbow, and the shoulder. Forward and downward pressure forces the suspect to the ground.

 

It’s that time again, where we all join hands in front of a crackling fire to sing the holiday classic …

The Twelve Nights Of Graveyard

On the first night of graveyard my sergeant gave to me, a car-tri-idge and a cuff key.

On the second night of graveyard my sergeant gave to me, two ghetto whores and a car-tri-idge and a cuff key.

On the third night of graveyard my sergeant gave to me, three stinky winos, two ghetto whores, and a car-tri-idge and a cuff key.

On the fourth night of graveyard my sergeant gave to me, four calls from wackos, three stinky winos, two ghetto whores, and a car-tri-idge and a cuff key.

On the fifth night of graveyard my sergeant gave to me, five … cans … of … pepper-spray, four calls from wackos, three stinky winos, two ghetto whores, and a car-tri-idge and a cuff key.

On the sixth night of graveyard my sergeant gave to me, six drunks a-peeing,  five … cans … of … pepper-spray, four calls from wackos, three stinky winos, two ghetto whores, and a car-tridge and a cuff key.

On the seventh night of graveyard my sergeant gave to me, seven robbers running, six drunks a-peeing, five … cans … of … pepper-spray, four calls from wackos, three stinky winos, two ghetto whores, and a car-tri-idge and a cuff key.

On the eighth night of graveyard my sergeant gave to me, eight maids embezzling, seven robbers running, six drunks a-peeing, five … cans … of … pepper-spray, four calls from wackos, three stinky winos, two ghetto whores, and a car-tri-idge and a cuff key.

On the ninth night of graveyard my sergeant gave to me, nine ladies fighting, eight maids embezzling, seven robbers running, six drunks a peeing, five … cans … of … pepper-spray, four calls from wackos, three stinky winos, two ghetto whores, and a car-tri-idge and a cuff key.

On the tenth night of graveyard my sergeant gave to me, ten perverts peeping, nine ladies fighting, eight maids embezzling, seven robbers running, six drunks a-peeing, five … cans … of … pepper-spray, four calls from wackos, three stinky winos, two ghetto whores, and a car-tri-idge and a cuff key.

Peeping Tom

On the eleventh night of graveyard my sergeant gave to me, eleven crackheads stealing, ten perverts peeping, nine ladies fighting, eight maids embezzling, seven robbers running, six drunks a-peeing, five … cans … of … pepper-spray, four calls from wackos, three stinky winos, two ghetto whores, and a car-tri-idge and a cuff key.

On the twelfth night of graveyard my sergeant gave to me, twelve hours of overtime, eleven crackheads stealing, ten perverts peeping, nine ladies fighting, eight maids embezzling, seven robbers running, six drunks a-peeing, five … cans … of … pepper-spray, four calls from wackos, three stinky winos, two ghetto whores, and a car-tri-idge … and … a … cuff … keeey.

Candies, cakes, and eggnog.

Turkey, ham, and stuffing.

Pumpkin pie.

My favorite.

Family, friends, and sleeping dog on hearth.

Fireplace crackles.

Cedar logs sizzle.

Cookies and milk.

Laughter, giggles, and squeals.

Stockings and gifts.

Silent wishes and happy, hopeful dreams.

Home.

Wish I was there.

Pepper spray, handcuffs, and puking drunks.

Radios, shotguns, and TASERS.

Spouses abused.

Battered.

Black eyes and broken bones.

Not their fault.

Dealers, robbers, and sad, pitiful kids.

No toys.

Lots of drugs.

Crack pipes burning.

No place to sleep.

No food, no heat.

Gunshots and stabbings.

Car crashes and suicides.

Crying, bleeding, and dying.

Ambulances, hospitals, and morgues.

Home.

Glad I have one.

Aren’t you?


Please remember the many police officers, fire crews, rescue workers, hospital staff, and all others who work to keep us safe during the holidays.

And, thanks so much to each of you who’ve helped our daughter’s battle with cancer through donations, prayers, gifts, and healing thoughts. She’s quite ill, her hair is now gone, and the pain she endures daily is intense, but her sweet smile still lights up a room, and my heart. 

Ellen, prior to receiving chemo.

Here’s how you, too, can help Ellen (our daughter). I cannot begin to stress the importance of each and every dollar. No donation is too small. Click here to help. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. You guys are the best and I don’t know how we’d make it through this without you!