It’s what we do when we’re upset and we don’t feel heard. As far as I can tell, voiceless rage is the song of my people here in civil service. Especially during the big-fat-global pandemic/civil-unrest/economic-disaster that isn’t nearly as much fun a zombie apocalypse would’ve been. While the rest of the populace indulges in unbridled anarchy, someone still has to keep the electricity on, the water running, the criminals jailed and the drive-through’s open. Perhaps most of all someone has to keep the dead bodies from piling up in the gutters.
It’s me… “someone” is me. I’m still clocking in every goddamned day. It’s armageddon and I haven’t gotten to throw a single Molotov cocktail.
The end of the civilized world totally blows and I’m not feeling particularly civil about it.
We don’t have enough PPE. The medical examiners are being buried under an ever-growing list of tasks that aren’t really our job, but no one else is in the office to do them. Administration wants to cut our wages. The homicide rate in our county has tripled over the last year. And any complaints to our supervisors are met with perhaps the most infuriating response ever:
“Everyone is having a really hard time right now.”
I’ve never understood why hearing about other people’s suffering is somehow supposed to make me feel better about mine. People in hell wanting ice-water doesn’t really have anything to do with the fact that we’re overworked and underpaid. But apparently, it’s the only comfort we’re being offered right now.
So I misbehave.
My husband does too. He’s a cop and he’s exhausted with never-ending hours full of frustrating bureaucracy and hostile communities. He’s struggling to survive his shifts without getting sued or shot. But no one really listens or cares so during daily briefing he’ll start knocking things off desks like a pissy house cat.
I’m a little more vocal… and probably crazier.
These last two shifts I’ve really taken it to new heights, though. And I’m taking everyone with me. I just don’t give a $%^& anymore.
For the most part we’re told not to mess with the media.
Pissing them off is a bad idea. With everything that’s going on in American society right now: the protests, the outrage, the cancel-culture and the desperate press to find someone else to crucify, you really don’t want to get on the media’s bad side. They can circulate all kinds of horrible claims about you and your ability to do your job and people will believe them. All it takes is one snarky comment on your part and some clever editing on theirs. The masses could be calling for your head on a platter in no time. So rather than fight with them, cops just ignore them. News crews show up to film a gnarly car accident or a dead hiker found in the woods. So long as they don’t get too close, the public information officer will give them a statement and law enforcement will just pretend they’re not there.
Thing is… I’m not law enforcement. And I hate the media.
Their disregard for professional ethics nauseates me. I understand that they have a job to do and the public craves information. But a lot of camera crews and reporters around here have breezed right past “informative” and crashed right into “exploitative and vulgar.” I can’t count the number of times I’ve arrived on a death scene to find cameras rolling and hungry young reporters eagerly babbling about the, “tragic happenings”. And I wouldn’t care too much, except that these people have no sense of the repercussions. While they always claim that they’re not “filming the body”, they have no problem filming the dead person’s car… or their address. As soon as this footage hits the airwaves, we have family members blowing up our phone because they saw their loved one’s car or house on the news. THAT’S HOW THESE PEOPLE ARE INFORMED OF THEIR LOVED ONE’S DEATH. It shows up on TV, or on fucking Facebook before we can get a uniformed officer dispatched to respectfully notify next of kin. But the media doesn’t care about respect, they care about ratings. And they’re not above making shit up to get them. I once had a scene where a married couple was found deceased in their home. It was a pretty weird situation which took some time to thread through. When the news crew asked for details, we basically told them we were still working out what had happened. So, in lieu of any actual facts, the news crew went ahead and made some shit up. They broadcast that the husband had killed the wife and then himself… which wasn’t true at all. The wife had died of an aneurysm and the husband was so devastated when he found her dead body, he killed himself. HOWEVER, when the truth came out, the news folks didn’t bother to correct themselves. Why should they? They got the dirty, titillating story they wanted. People watched and believed what they were told. A few days later, though, I had to talk to the couple’s son when he called and demanded an explanation for why the whole world believed his father killed his mother.
Once more for the people in back: I had to talk to him. No one at the fucking news station had to answer for their mistake. They didn’t care.
So, when I was called to a dead guy on a sidewalk just off a highway in my county, I was none too pleased to see a cameraman, posted up about 50 yards away, filming the whole thing. It was a busy stretch of road and the cops had done a good job of blocking the dead guy from the passing cars. But they couldn’t do a damn thing about this network-news dirtbag who was gobbling up footage with his fancy-ass camera.
Admittedly, I was already in a mood. I’ve been reeling from a whole other death scene I was on almost a month ago- a death that completely overturned my beliefs about my job, my county, civil service and humanity. I’m still working out how best to write about that situation. So, for now, lets’ just say some bad shit happened and I was in a mood.
As I greeted the cops, I looked down the hill at the camera guy and snarled, “Who the fuck is that guy?” The cops glanced over at him and shrugged.
“Channel 4? Channel 12? I don’t know.” The older officer worked his jaw as he spoke. “We’re more or less on lock-down when it comes to dealing with the press. Law enforcement is shit right now in the eyes of the world so we have to be super accommodating to those guys… no matter how much we want to tell him to go pound sand.”
I felt my scalp tighten as my lips drew back from my teeth in a sneer. Normally, I take my cues from the police and just ignore the press. But not this time…
“Oh fuck…” I heard on of the officers gasp and I spun on my heel and marched down to the camera guy.
As soon as I was within barking distance, I let loose with, “Hey, who are you?”
The camera guy looked me up and down. “I’m with Channel 12.” He glanced past me at the dead guy’s inert form on the sidewalk. “Don’t worry,” he offered smugly. “I’m not filming the body.”
They always say that and they always are. But they’re trained to say “I’m not filming the body” because they know we have no way of disproving this statement. Then they can get away with hanging around for as long as they want and filming whatever they like.
I turned around and looked up the hill. All I saw were two nervous cops standing over a dead guy who was loosely covered with a plastic sheet. I turned back to the cameraman. “Well, what ARE you filming then?” I demanded.
He stuttered. “Uh… the scene?”
“The scene IS the dead body,” I snapped. There was no arguing with me. He was filming two cops and a dead guy. It’s not like the dead guy was in a spectacular car accident, or there was a house fire in the background. I stared hard at the camera man who clearly wasn’t blessed with an overabundance of wit. He was working his mouth in a vain attempt to re-navigate his response. The old, “I’m-not-filming-the-body” angle had been out-played and he didn’t have anything else in his arsenal. I let him flail for a moment before delivering the fatal blow: “I’m going to have to ask you to LEAVE.” I said with flat finality.
We locked eyes for a hanging second. I saw him consider an argument or two- before shuffling forward to take his camera off the tripod and kick-stones back to his van. I turned, squaring my shoulders and making sure he got a clear, un-rumpled shot of the words “MEDICAL EXAMINER” printed across the back of my coat. He just got served and I wanted him to know by whom. Call my office and complain if you DARE, I silently willed him. And as I made my way back to the body, I mentally quoted one of my favorite movie lines ever:
“I haven’t got a thing to lose… That makes me dangerous.”
“What did you SAY to him?” the cops gasped as I rejoined them at the top of the hill, getting ready to carry out the examination and disposition of one unidentified, deceased homeless guy who bought the farm on a local sidewalk.
“I told him to leave.”
They exchanged glances as I peeled the plastic sheet back. Our dead guy was in rough shape. His leathery skin was a tangled map of track-marks and scars. Both legs were encased in plastic walking casts but he wore no socks. I could see his cold-nipped toes sticking out the heavy padding of these “ortho-boots” which were serving as shoes. His pants were held up with a plastic bag which had been twisted into a fraying twine belt. He wore just a t-shirt. No coat or jacket. He had a few coins in his pockets, but no ID. No papers, no belongings. I took a peek- he also didn’t have any teeth.
We had no way of knowing who he was.
“Hey guys,” I called out to the officers. “Do we have any of those portable finger-print machines?”
They shook their heads. “The whole county had to discontinue the program. There isn’t a portable fingerprint machine for 40 miles in any direction.”
This concludes episode one of “The Truth of the Matter: Acting Out”. Join me next time to hear all about my increasingly volatile behavior as my frustration with work reached a fever pitch.
You want a teaser?
Further shenanigans included me dancing around a funeral home at 2 in the morning, waving my keys over my head like a tambourine in an effort to identify this homeless guy…
The unauthorized application of toothpaste in an unorthodox fashion on the scene of a homicide.