A couple of months back, I was waiting for my sergeant to approve one of my police reports. It was a pretty mundane incident (certainly not worth repeating here) and I had written that kind of report untold hundreds of times before. I could (and pretty much did) write it in my sleep.
My sergeant could see the boredom in my eyes. He is also well aware of my “other life,” and the ambitions that come with it. After approving my report, he offered me a devious grin. “Don’t worry, Ced,” he offered as comfort. “Before you know it, you’ll be retired. And then you can spend all your time writing about music nobody has ever heard of.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. But I wonder if he truly grasped how eager I am for that day.
I’m at the end of what I like to call my “Annual Summer Sabbatical.” I’ve been off work for three weeks. There was a time when I took that kind of break and was absolutely dying to get back to work. These days, I don’t even want to look at my uniforms. I’ve gotten really used to not going in. And I’m not particularly eager to go back.
But a lack of enthusiasm isn’t a good reason to walk away from one’s career, even after a long time. Thanks to musicians, I’ve found the other good reason. It’s time to experience the “other half” of the human condition, before it’s too late.
I have been in law enforcement for almost 25 years. That’s a long time to do anything. We often joke that “cop time” can really be measured in “dog years,” because it can seem a helluva lot longer! Next July, I’m calling it a day. I’m gonna hang up my badge and do my best to spend most of my time writing. For the most part, I will write about music and musicians. Hopefully, I’ll even find someone willing to pay me to do it.
My day job takes a toll. Not just physically (although I have had eight orthopedic operations in the last 20 years, and rotating shifts every three weeks can cause brain damage, studies show). The things we see on a nearly daily basis don’t just fade into the ether. They tend to linger, which doesn’t always leave one in the best head space. Trauma piles up. It creeps into your sleep. It induces something called “hyper vigilance,” where you spend most of your time on edge and waiting for the next crisis. Worst of all, it gives you a rather negative outlook on the world and the people in it.
My job entails dealing with people at their worst. Nobody calls “911” to announce good news. “Attention all cars! Attention all cars! Maggie Smith would like you come by and celebrate the birth of her new baby boy! She has cake!” Twenty-five years on the job, and I’m still waiting for a call like that. No, we’re either dealing with good people having a bad day, or bad people making things worse. And people wonder why we’re edgy.
The exploration of music and the people connected to it has been nothing short of an almost hurricane-strength breath of fresh air. How wonderful it is to surround myself with a community that has come together specifically for the enjoyment of something inherently positive. I want more of that. I want it full-time.
I want to live in a world where I can take people at their word, and not question their motives when they speak to me. A police officer expects the “bad guys” to be less than forthcoming when asked questions about an incident. But we often find our victims playing fast and loose with the truth, as well. One of my old partners used to say, “We don’t have a lot of real victims out here. They’re just Suspects in Distress.” It’s horribly cynical, yet completely hilarious. And unfortunately, it’s often true.
In his book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, David Simon recited the number one rule of interrogation established by Baltimore Police Department Homicide detectives, whom he followed for a year as a beat writer for the Baltimore Sun. “Everybody lies,” detectives say. “They lie because they have to. They lie because they think they have to. And they lie because they just don’t want to help the police.” Damn. And they’re not wrong. It’s sad that I’ve never forgotten that line more than two decades after first reading it. Because I’ve seen it proven accurate, time and time again.
My encounters with musicians — already too numerous to count — have been overwhelmingly positive. They’re kind and decent, full of life an energy despite the grind of the road. They have an unabashed love for what they do, and can’t wait to share that love. They’re genuinely happy to see you at shows, and express that appreciation. An artist says he’s going to do something, and he does! Is he looking for something from me? Yeah, sometimes. But it’s never more than publicity for whatever he is promoting at the time. That is something I am more than happy to provide. Most of all, musicians can be remarkably generous, whether it’s with their talent, their time, or their hospitality.
Being a cop makes you paranoid. In the context of your shift, that’s a good thing. It keeps you alive in dangerous situations. But that paranoia has a way of leaking out into the rest of your world. For the longest, I didn’t see it in myself. Now I have become very aware of it. Case in point: when Bob Nyswonger kindly offered to let me stay at his home while visiting Cincinnati a month ago, I hesitated. Partially because I simply did not want to intrude on his personal space. But mainly because I was trying to figure out what his motive was! The thought is he going to kill me in my sleep? actually popped into my head! For that matter, I wanted to say, “Hey, man! You don’t know me! I could be an axe murderer for all you know.”
This is not normal.
How wonderful it is to receive the gift of another human’s pure generosity. How I look forward to being able to return the favor wherever I can. I am well aware that life is not all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows, as the old song goes, but people outside my current professional world can, in fact, actually be good to one another. I would like lots more of that, please.
More than anything, I look forward to consistently having conversations that don’t involve someone committing a crime or experiencing a personal tragedy. The only thing I want to hear or see being dissected is a complex piece of music or a performance during a concert video. Sporting events and movies will also be acceptable forms of conversation. And despite the fact that I intend to move to an entirely different city, I hope to keep discussion of my prior professional life to a minimum. There are better things to talk about than the horrors man can bring upon each other.
There are two sides to every coin. How great will it be to spend more time looking at the other side of this one?
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