A Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Job

Remember that book? “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.”

I did a quick look up and found out this charming little tale of childhood angst was first published in 1972. If you haven’t read it, maybe give it a look. You know, before it’s too late and you spend your life with an unexplainable sense of optimism, assuming everything is going to work out for you.

Let me explain.

The book is a story about an 11-year-old boy, Alexander, who has a catastrophic day in which he suffers numerous atrocities. He trips over his skateboard getting out of bed. He has to sit in the middle seat during his morning carpool ride to school. He gets shit on by his friends at recess. He goes to the dentist to find he has a cavity. He has to eat lima beans, he has to wear shoes he doesn’t like. He gets scolded by adults. His nightlight burns out and his cat doesn’t want to sleep with him. Throughout it all, he believes the remedy for his woes is to move to Australia.  In the end, Alexander’s mother lets him know that regardless of where he is or what he does, sometimes life will kick him in the teeth. All he can do is take it on the chin and hope tomorrow is better.

I get it. This book strives to communicate to kids that bad times don’t last forever. Things will improve and it’s important to develop a sense of resiliency when nothing is going your way.

That’s one way of looking at it.  On the other hand, I can’t help but see Alexander’s run of school-kid crises as preparation for what’s to come. Alexander is having a rough time of it and no one cares… Which makes this book perhaps the most Generation-X literary work ever published: Life is going to fuck you over, kids. Deal with it.

I think Alexander may have grown up to be a deputy medical examiner.

I think I might be Alexander.

Seriously, I’m not sure, but I believe books like these set the gaslighting tone of the 70’s and 80’s in which we were told that not wanting life to suck so much all the time was some kind of a moral failing. I don’t know about your generation, but I come from latch-key kid territory and the overwhelming theme of my childhood was this: Nobody gives a shit how you feel. Work harder.

I think most of us born-between-1965-and-1980 folks really internalized that message and have become the bone-grinding laborers that are currently keeping the world together while the Baby-boomers succumb to dementia and the Millennials battle for social justice in the streets. Speaking from my own experience, I would have loved to march and riot and demonstrate along with all the other outraged feminists.  But I have to work.  The dead bodies of my county aren’t going to clean up themselves, and my co-workers are just as overworked as I am. I can’t bring myself to call in sick-of-the-state-of-affairs when I know it would mean sticking my cohorts with a 72 hour shift. We’re all burned out.

I’m not gonna lie, things have been bad lately. I think the combined stress of the pandemic along with a whole array of political upheavals and civil unrest is taking a brutal, unacknowledged toll on the human race. People have been dying of COVID-19.  But, there have also been more suicides, more homicides and WAY more instances of people dying BADLY than I think I’ve ever seen. Seriously, you guys… shit is fucked.  Maybe it’s always been that way and my original programming: the suck-it-up-no-one-cares-how-you-feel-programming… is simply starting to fall apart. The lesson I learned from Alexander and his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day is failing me.  Maybe I’m just done taking it on the chin and hoping tomorrow is better.

Anyway, it’s been a run of some gnarly shit- and since this is MY blog and MY coping mechanism… I’m gonna go ahead and talk about it.

(I guess that’s as close as you’re going to get to a trigger warning.)

-Case #1- Bad men and beautiful creatures

It was the second day of my 48-hour shift, and I use the word, “day” lightly. The time was 4:55 in the morning, and I know this because it was the third time I had been woken out of a dead sleep to deal with someone else’s problems.  The first call had been at midnight.  The second call had rolled in at 3 am. Now it was 4:55, I had barely slept and I was shlupping my cranky ass to a suicide… Rather, ANOTHER suicide. There have been so many lately.

It may surprise one to hear, but much like paramedics, death investigators have certain scenes that they don’t mind running, and other scenes that they despise with the fiery passion of a thousand suns.  For example, back when I was a paramedic, I was a whiz with cardiac calls, but I hated respiratory calls.  I would completely fall apart and do a shit job.

The quirky, stoic medical examiners displayed on network television would have you believe that all deaths are created equal and we who investigate them are indifferent and unaffected at each and every one. 

That is not the case.

I hate suicides on a visceral level. Walking into a suicide scene feels like swimming in toxic waste.  You come away from it feeling heavy and poisoned. I hate asking witnesses about the dead person’s slow descent into hopeless misery.  I hate looking at blown-off heads or mouths erupting with frothy foam from an overdose.  I hate heaving dead bodies down from their hanging points. I hate measuring ligatures. I hate peeling ropes, electrical cords and ratchet-straps out of the deep furrows around people’s necks. I hate having to explain to the dead person’s mom or wife or brother that we know it’s a suicide due to a multitude of reasons. I hate telling them their suspicions the death may have been a homicide or an accident aren’t based in reality or fact.

That morning, as I wrote down the address and headed to the scene, I hated all of it more than ever. In addition to the standard issue post-suicide angst, I would also be battling sleep deprivation. I’m physically incapable of napping during the day, which meant the remaining 27 hours of my shift were going to be fueled by caffeine and rage. I wasn’t even halfway done. And a shift at the medical examiner’s office is like a box of chocolates: There’s a lot of variety, but sooner or later, all of it is going to keep you awake, make you fat, and give you a disease.

I stampeded onto the scene with a degree of salty sarcasm that frightened even me.  Sadly, stopping at a Starbucks for a cup of liquid decency didn’t improve my mood. The only thing that helped the situation was the fact that none of the decedent’s family was at the scene when I got there.  Normally, the cops are supposed to keep witnesses around so I can interview them myself. But today I didn’t give a shit. In fact, I was relieved no one emotionally invested in the death was still present, because the second I walked in the door I was off like a sarcastic comet… my contempt for everything and everyone trailing a searing streak behind me.

I barked questions at the cops, I sneered at the Walmart décor… asking if it was from the “Suburban Desperation Collection.”  I demanded to know who had cut the decedent down from the ligature point in her closet. And did that investigative genius bother to take any measurements or pictures before they destroyed anything of evidentiary value. To cap it all off, I also asked why the fuck these people had a drawing of Christopher Walken in their living room.

(It took me a second to realize it was actually a cringe-worthy, cliché “Native American’s” face superimposed over an equally mediocre landscape.  Whoever had drawn it had attempted to accentuate the stereotypically high cheekbones and solemn countenance.  But they had only managed to render a white-washed, gaunt ubiquitous male who, hand-to-God, looked just like the Hessian Mercenary from Sleepy Hollow.)

By the time I made it to the decedent’s body in the living room, my tirade died down a bit. I heaved out an exasperated huff as I knelt down beside her.  Her name was Krista. She was 21 years old. Blonde. Eyes closed with black eye-makeup flaking off her eyelashes on to her cheeks. Her shirt had been cut by the fire department during resuscitation and lay in shreds beneath her.  To facilitate CPR, Fire had also yanked her bra up to her chin rather than try to cut the underwires.  He jeans were slashed from the cuffs to the waistband so an interosseous IV could be drilled into her leg. Tangled IV lines and plastic wrappers from resuscitation equipment surrounded her.  There was a tube jammed down her throat and vomit smeared her face and dribbled into her hair. There was a deep, waxy furrow looping around her jawline and up behind each ear. It was vulnerable, grotesque and in a word, humiliating. I glanced around the living room.  There were pictures of her with her family, hung everywhere. She was smiling in all of them, clearly laughing in a couple as well. I felt a twinge in my chest.

“Oh, kiddo… what the hell did you do?” I sighed as I pulled the airway tube and began peeling away layers of resuscitation equipment. The officers spoke as I worked. They detailed Krista’s last night on Earth as I ran my hands over her scalp and face, feeling for bumps, bruises, deformities. Feeling for movement where there shouldn’t be any.  Looking in her mouth, pushing on her teeth to make sure they were all still in place. I checked for scratches, bruises, defensive wounds… anything that might suggest she didn’t do this to herself.

“This is her parent’s house,” The officers told me. “By all reports she was a pretty normal kid until she moved in with some guy for a bit.  That fell apart and she’s been a mess ever since. She was living here right after the break-up. But apparently she wasn’t willing to abide by ‘house rules’ so parents kicked her out a while ago and she’s just kinda been couch-surfing ever since. They let her sleep in her old room here from time to time. But I guess she won’t keep a job and parties all the time: In and out at all hours, problematic behavior, steals, lies etc.  Anyway, she shows up yesterday at like 7am, asking if she can crash here for a bit.  Mom & dad say yes, even though they’re leaving to go to out of town for the weekend and she’s going to be here alone with her sister who still lives here.  The sister decides to go to a boyfriend’s place, leaving our girl here alone.  Krista decides to have some people over even though she’s been told not to.  Sister calls at about midnight and hears people in the background.  Sister tells our girl to get those people out of the house.  They hang up and about 2 hours later, Krista texts the sister and tells her not to come home tonight.  Naturally, the first thing Sister does is come right home. She finds our girl alone, trussed up in the closet.  Sister cuts her down, calls 911 and here we are.”

I glanced down at Krista’s face as though I expected her to offer some kind of explanation or rebuttal. The officers continued:

“We’ve already talked to one of our girl’s friends who was here earlier.  The friend says she didn’t like Krista’s new boyfriend who was here, so she left right after that phone call with the sister. I guess Krista’s boyfriend stuck around for a bit, but then left too.  We got his number, but we haven’t called him yet.”

“Well, shit,” I guffawed. “Dial him up and put him on speaker! We have questions for him.”

The officer nodded. “One more thing,” he said. “Sister says Krista was at some birthday party recently.  She got pass-out-wasted and I guess she was sexually assaulted by a couple of guys there. It wasn’t the boyfriend. He wasn’t there.  But I guess she didn’t file a police report because she felt like it was her fault.”

“Fuck…” The twinge in my chest tightened into a twist, like my heart couldn’t watch anymore and was trying to turn away. I stared into Krista’s dead face for a second and I could feel the officers’ eyes on me as I absorbed this information. My glance snagged on another smiling pic of our dead girl as I straightened up from my crouched position on the floor. “Fuck, that’s… terrible… Ok, mom and dad have been notified?”

The officers nodded. “They’re driving back right now, it’ll probably be another few hours. Sister is at a friend’s house.”

I stood there, silently for a moment.  Looking at Krista’s face and trying not to think of the pictures on the walls around me: pictures of her smiling, pictures of her laughing with her sister or hugging her dog. I wanted to say something to her. I wanted to hold her and soothe away the trauma in her life. I wanted to rewind it all and tell her she was going to be okay.  But she wasn’t ok.  She was dead.

“Boyfriend,” I announced to the officers. “Get the boyfriend on the phone.”

They nodded again and one officer, Derrick, dialed the number we had been given for the boyfriend.  He put the phone on speaker and we gathered around as the ringer trilled.  We had to call 3 times but he finally answered.  I kept quiet as Officer Derrick introduced himself and told the guy (let’s call him Tony) about the death.

To his credit, Tony was pretty upset.  He gasped and sputtered and his voice shook as he asked what happened.  Derrick calmly explained that Krista had killed herself and we knew that he had been at the house earlier in the evening. “Listen, Tony,” Derrick said. “The medical examiner is here with me.  You’re on speaker and she’d like to ask you some questions.”

“Man… o-ok,” Tony gasped as the reality of the situation punctured the fog of sleep.

“Tony,” I spoke loudly into the phone in Derrick’s hand. “My name is Grace, I’m the county medical examiner. I need you to answer some questions for me.”

“Yeah… yeah.”

“You’re Krista’s boyfriend, right.”

“No… not exactly… we’re talking,” he mumbled.

My eyes narrowed and I glanced at Derrick, who shrugged and rolled his eyes in response. “you’re ‘talking.’ Ok. What does that mean?”

“I don’t know. We hang out but it’s nothing official.”

“Right. Okay. I understand you were here tonight.  Can you tell me what happened?  What was going on? How was Krista acting?”

Tony launched into a confused description of being invited over to the home, driving across town to get there, the “vibe” of the whole thing being “pretty chill” until the sister called.  At which point the other girls in attendance “later-ed out” and he and his buddy left soon after.

“So,” I rubbed my eyes with one hand as I took the phone from Derrick. “How was Krista acting when you left.”

“I don’t know… She got really quiet.”

My ears pricked. “What do you mean ‘she got quiet?’”

Tony fumbled with his words for a second. “She got quiet, she seemed… quiet… I don’t know.”

“Was she upset?”

“Maybe.”

“Did you guys fight?” Tony was sounding a bit evasive. He was couching his answers in equivocations in order to deflect something. Not quite lying, but definitely side-stepping.

“No…?” he hesitated.   

I was starting to lose my patience with Tony. “OK, go on.”

He fumbled around for a bit, meandering through some feeble tale about they were supposed to go paddle-boarding the next day and her friends were lame and some other such bullshit. His voice went higher and the words came faster with no destination or point in sight. The tone of his monologue made my teeth grind until they squeaked.

“Tony… tony… tony… TONY STOP TALKING!” I interrupted him mid-sentence as he blathered on about absolutely anything other than what I was asking.  The deputies froze at my tone and exchanged a glance. I have a reputation for being kind of a hard-ass, but I don’t think any of them had ever actually heard me yell at a “witness” before.  But Tony was trying to wiggle out of something and I wasn’t having it. “TELL ME EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED.”

“Well… I drove all the way over there from across town, and I thought we were going to hang out. But then we had to leave and I told her I was annoyed-“ His voice trailed off.

-and that’s where the real story colored itself in. I knew exactly what had happened. Tony had driven across town, thinking he was going to get laid.  And when Tony didn’t get laid, he let Krista know exactly how he felt about it.  He had burned a good $7 in gas on the possibility of an orgasm. When he didn’t get what he felt entitled to, he had berated Krista and she got -as he called it- “quiet.”

I asked him if he knew about the sexual assault at the party.  He said he’d heard about it but wasn’t there and didn’t know the details.  His voice broke and he started babbling again. I could tell he was winding up to kick-off some hysterics and I wasn’t interested. I handed the phone back to Derrick and walked away as Tony began wailing. I didn’t care.

Tony was an idiot.

I’ve known the type.  After getting out of an incredibly abusive relationship, I attempted dating a “nice guy,” as in: he wasn’t a tattooed psychopath with a substance abuse problem. But despite the fact that I had told Mr. Nice-Guy about my recent, traumatic past… that didn’t stop him from kicking stones and whining that I had neglected to have sex with him after a few dates.  Specifically, he didn’t get a pony-ride on his birthday and he felt cheated.

Another time, another boyfriend wove together an epic guilt trip when I made moves to go to sleep when he was expecting sex. “Of course, maybe you just don’t LIKE sex,” he’d accused glumly. “Or maybe you just don’t like sex with me.” (Later that night I woke up to the sound of him noisily jerking off to porn in the bathroom. When he came back to bed to find me up, he told me it was my fault he’d been driven to such behavior.)

Still another time, ANOTHER boyfriend confronted me with near outrage when I had taken a sleeping pill on a camping trip, thinking I was about to turn in for the night. “What do you think you’re doing?” he had demanded as I washed down my Benadryl with a sip of water.  

I bet if you’d asked any of those guys what my reaction was to their behavior, they’d say that I “got quiet,” too.

Because I did.

In each of those instances, I froze with confusion, anger, shame. What should I say? What should I do? Am I wrong? Is he?

I knelt down again next to Krista as Derrick tried to talk Tony out of his imminent melt-down. I couldn’t help myself.  I didn’t want the deputies to see me, because, after all, I’m a hard-ass. But I wasn’t just going to leave her there. I had to do… something.  I reached down and cradled Krista’s head in my hands, stroking the sticky hair away from her face. I put a hand over her eyes and closed my own for a moment. I can’t put words to that moment because I didn’t say anything. I was just trying to reach past whatever barrier she had slipped through in her final moments. I see you. I know what happened to you.  I’m so sorry, kiddo. I’m sorry so many people failed you. You deserve better. I’m sorry all you get is me: a random stranger standing over you on your parents’ living room floor. I’m so sorry.

When I glanced back up, Derrick was watching me.  He’d handed the phone off to the other deputy (Tony was now audibly sobbing over the phone in another room) and when our eyes met, he said that he’d called the body transport crew and they’d be here soon. I stood up, straightened my coat. “Ok,” I sighed.  I felt heavy. Like I just didn’t have the energy to even be sad or say something to Derrick who looked concerned, like maybe I would start crying too. I wouldn’t, I was just weary.  Weary of loss. Weary of tragedy. Weary of what human beings do to each other and themselves.

I walked to the front door and stood in the foyer for a second. It was almost 5 am: early enough that the sky would still be dark, and it wouldn’t take the transport crew long to arrive. It was also early enough that the neighbors wouldn’t be staring out their windows or coming outside to ask why all the police cars were there. Sighing again, I opened the front door. I needed to breathe a bit.

There, right at eye-level as I opened the door, a hummingbird hovered in the entryway.  Facing inward as though it had been about to knock on the door. The tiny thing didn’t flinch or fly away, but rather hung there, regarding me with fearless curiosity.

My breath halted in my throat and the moment froze like a paused movie. Its wings were a dark blur and I couldn’t completely see it in the dark. But its throat was such an astonishing neon green it looked like it was lit from the inside.  “Oh…” I gasped as the hummingbird zipped a few inches closer, then backed away again. The little green light twitched and flashed with each miniscule movement. We remained like that, staring at each other for a few suspended seconds before it turned and disappeared, leaving me in the early morning stillness. I couldn’t move.

“What are you doing?” I heard Derrick behind me, breaking my trance.

“I… uh… there was a hummingbird. It was… green.”

“Hummingbirds are cool.”

“Yeah.”

The transport crew came and took Krista’s body away and throughout the rest of my shift, I grilled every cop I saw about whether or not anything could be still be done to prosecute the guys who attacked Krista at that party.  The answer was pretty much the same all around: She hadn’t reported it and now she was gone. Those cases are hard enough to pursue when the victim is still alive and willing to talk.  Without Krista to make the report, there was almost no chance those guys would ever answer for what they did to her.  No one took it lightly, either.  Every cop and detective listened intently and shook their head in frustration. Everyone felt the same way: angry, disgusted, helpless.

The next day, I had the dreaded talk with Krista’s mom. Maybe it wasn’t the best idea, but I mentioned the sexual assault when she asked me if I knew what happened. As I explained what we had found out about the incident Krista’s mom sighed, sounding almost exasperated. “I told her… I told her these things could happen.  I warned her about drinking…”

I get this a lot.  People feel compelled to explain things to me, to justify what they did or didn’t do.  They defend themselves or the defend the dead person.  It’s unnecessary. After over a decade of doing this job, I don’t really feel invested enough to make judgements on who’s a good person, who’s a bad person or who’s to blame. I just want to get my paperwork done.

Still, I couldn’t help but feel kind of … incredulous at this response. Like, okay, it’s important to warn kids about the things that could happen if they drink too much.  But still, in the aftermath of her daughter’s sexual assault and subsequent suicide, this I-told-her-so reaction struck me as being pretty… awful. Granted, this wasn’t my family and our conversation was only a glimpse into their dynamic.  But damn. The whole situation burrowed me deeper into a state of bleak ennui. In the immortal words of Charles Bukowski: “People are not good to each other. Perhaps if they were, our deaths would not be so sad.”

Or, in the words of Alexander: “Terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad…”

I did my best to file it all away in the “things I can’t think about or it’ll kill me” drawer in my brain. Also, I didn’t tell anyone about the hummingbird because I knew it would sound all woo-woo or whatever. I mean, it’s silly to attach significance to it, right? Hummingbirds happen – my desire to turn its appearance into a tiny, little, neon miracle… maybe Krista’s soul flying away from a bullshit, human existence… stupid… right?

I didn’t even tell my deputy husband, Mike, how upset I was by the whole scenario.  But it appears someone did. Imagine my surprise when he came home from work a while later, put down his gear and regarded me.

“Derrick is going after those guys.”

“Huh?”

“Derrick, he was with you on the suicide of the girl who was assaulted at a party.  He’s interviewing the other witnesses, he’s going to try to go after them.”

“He is?”

“Yeah, it might not go anywhere.  But he’s at least going to get them on law enforcement’s radar. We’ll know who they are. “

And it’s only now funny to me how I went to that death thinking that no one invested would be at the scene. No one who cared would be around.

I cared. Derrick cared.

Sometimes, you’re alexander. You realize no one gives a shit how you feel. You take it on the chin and hope tomorrow is better.

But sometimes, something lights you from the inside.

Sometimes, you’re the hummingbird.

I hope I’m the hummingbird.

Stay tuned for cases #2, #3 and #4

The Point in the End

Things have changed.

I know many people disagree, but it’s true. Even in the last few years, I’ve seen a radical shift in attitudes and behaviors. It gives me some hope. People are getting it.

Hazing, hostile work environments and sexual harassment are still vicious cancers that persistently eat the heart out of civil service. But believe it or not, now-a-days is actually an improvement over what I went through.

Emergency service jobs were much worse 15 years ago, back when I was an itty-bitty paramedic-girl with less-than-no-idea of what was coming. And I’m not referring to the inevitable psychological toll of working in emergency medical care, although EMS is a rough ride in the best of times and anyone who says otherwise is getting high on their own supply.

No, I’m talking about the flagrant abuse I suffered at the hands of my co-workers.

I won’t bore you with the whole story, but suffice to say that when I was a paramedic student, I was sexually harassed by my field-training-teachers during the hours that I worked on the ambulance with them. When I went to paramedic school administration to ask to be moved to a different ambulance shift, I was pressed into “tattling” on my perpetrators. I knew things would go badly for me if I told. Back then, a woman’s ability to take that kind of treatment was viewed as a badge of honor. Crying “Uncle!” meant I was a traitorous wimp- unworthy of the great brotherhood that was para-medicine. It would put a target on my back, but the administrators promised I would be “taken care of” and I “shouldn’t be afraid.” My perpetrators received a minor slap on the wrist, and then they flagrantly spread rumors that I was a lousy paramedic. They claimed I made up the allegations so their unfavorable assessment of my performance would be eradicated from my record.

No one in administration believed them, but EVERYONE on the street believed them with a vengeance. And regardless of what I did right or wrong- regardless of how I behaved or how hard I tried… my name was mud. Anyone could make up any rumor about me and it would be propagated without mercy or question. If any of my coworkers got reprimanded for anything, it’s because I turned them in to the supervisors. If there was a beef with the police or the fire department, it’s because I started it. I lived in a bleak dimension of ostracism and isolation, hated on every side with no means to redeem or extricate myself. I mean, I could get along fine with a paramedic partner for a 10-hour shift. We might have fun, we might joke and laugh. But the second another person entered the equation, I was dog-shit again. No one wanted to risk the social ramifications of admitting they liked me.

The loneliest little metal box in the world

It was hell.

And I know how my perpetrators justified their behavior: “Some people just don’t fit into the culture.” or “If you can’t take the heat…” or “She did it to herself…” – All of which are pathetic justifications for toxic group-think. In reality, it was a classic, Jr. High School drama: a couple of deplorable people (with better social standing than I) started a shitty rumor to deflect their guilt… and everyone believed it. I was screwed. I held on for a couple of years, convincing myself that my ability to tolerate being spit on by my co-workers was some kind of virtue. But I hit my limit and quit. I traded living patients for dead ones and went from a partner situation to a solo one. As a medical examiner I may deal with several other professional agencies throughout my day, but ultimately I’m alone… where it’s safe.

Because fuck people. We’re the worst.

Nine out of ten species agree, Homo-sapeins are total dirt-bags.

My friend, Chris, had his own hazing/hostile workplace environment when he was in the Marine Corps in the early 2000s. While he certainly doesn’t shy away from talking about his experience, I know he hasn’t told me everything. I only know he suffered a great deal under the authority of his “superior officers.” They did things to him that later got them court-marshalled when they repeated these acts on other recruits years later.

But things have changed.

Hazing is viewed as a crime. Retaliation against whistleblowers is a million-dollar law-suit. It’s a kinder, gentler, professional world with, still, a long way to go. But it’s weird for people like me and Chris. We have a hard time sympathizing when someone loses their shit because a co-worker inadvertently called them by the wrong pronoun. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely support the betterment of working conditions everywhere and I believe personhood of any kind should be respected and celebrated. But considering that both of us, on the regular, feared that our co-workers might try to kill us… Well… experience has skewed our perspective.

Furthermore, despite his trauma, Chris still believes “initiation rites” are valid and important. But, he’s pointed out these practices have to have a point, and they have to have an end. They can’t just be endless, sadistic abuse for the sake of cruel amusement. The person running the gauntlet needs to benefit from it in some way and understand that it won’t last forever.

There’s a very thin line between “initiation” and “hazing”. It’s such gray area that most police, fire and EMS agencies won’t allow any type of baptism-by-fire or proving ground at all anymore. I’m not sure how to feel about it. On the one hand, I certainly don’t think anyone should have to endure the crucible that Chris and I withstood. But I also don’t think participation trophies should be given out in the form of badges, guns, ambulances or fire-trucks. Not everyone should do these jobs, not everyone can. And no one is more aware of that fact than the people DOING THESE JOBS.

Administration can claim that they have all kinds of hiring requirements, but anyone can behave themselves on paper. It’s not hard to pull off a moral compass and a thick skin during a 45-minute-long interview. But a lot of people want to be cops who should NEVER BE COPS.

For example…

Almost 15 years ago I was engaged to a narcissistic sociopath who I like to call Dickbag. Long story short, Dickbag and I were 3 months away from our wedding. We had a venue, a caterer, invitations, the dress… the whole goddamnned dog-and-pony-show. But one morning I found out he’d essentially been living a double life. The whole time we dated, Dickbag had another girlfriend who was under the impression that she was in a monogamous relationship with him and that they, too, were headed to the altar soon. Oh… AND she had a kid who was stoked as hell to have Dickbag as a step-dad. And he didn’t confess these matters due to an attack of conscience. I caught him. The wedding was called off, he ended things with her and we attempted counseling for a few months before I came to terms with the fact that this fucking guy was a disaster on a deeply fundamental level. In the smoky aftermath of our defunct nuptials, he lost his job and toyed with the idea of applying to be a police officer. He even went so far as to ask me to be a character reference for him.

Are you fucking kidding me?

I remember my astonished incredulity when he broached the subject. I’m not certain of my exact wording. But I recall saying something about how I wasn’t comfortable testifying that he could make solid, life-altering decisions for himself, let alone anyone else. He looked wounded, then said something about me being “so full of unforgiveness.”

The disconnect from reality was astonishing… like having a severed head ask you to scratch his foot for him.

It’s a hard but important thing to realize your own fallibility. I don’t trust anyone who can’t take criticism and can’t absorb the idea that maybe they fucked up. And I don’t trust any cop who hasn’t looked at themselves at some point in their career and considered the possibility they may not be cut out for it.

Of course, these days recruitment numbers are so low that every douche-bag who ever drunkenly watched an episode of COPS at 3am is getting their shot at the real thing. Many people who have no business wearing a badge are being inflicted on the public. And their field training officers- the truly exceptional cops who are charged with training them- are being told retention is priority one. No matter how ill-suited a newbie might be for the job, keep training them until they graduate the program. Don’t yell, don’t criticize too sharply, don’t tease, don’t threaten and DON’T FAIL ANYONE. “Probies” are to be handled with the tenderest-touch at all times. Across the board, police officers are being told DON’T PICK ON THE RECRUITS.

“If you do good on this arrest, you can have a juice box!”

That’s where I come in… because I’m not a police officer. And sometimes these wiggly little cop-lings need a swift kick in the dick.

As a deputy medical examiner/medicolegal death investigator, part of my job is to acquaint other agencies with our policies and operating procedures. Often, I’m called to a death scene by a brand new police officer who has literally, NEVER SEEN a free-range dead body. It’s up to me to march that officer through a death investigation, performing my various job-tasks while at the same time describing what I’m doing and why to a wide-eyed novice who CAN’T BELIEVE I just jammed my fingers into the dead guys mouth. For the most part I’m happy to do it because I think death is super interesting and I can talk about it all day. I try to go easy on the recruits and take time to explain things like post-mortem changes and visible patterns of injury and disease. But sometimes I get a little squirrelly and go off book. Sometimes I can’t help myself and I have to have a little fun at a recruit’s expense.

Especially in the presence of…

…DILDOS!!!!!

Dildos are a sad fact of my job. I see LOTS of them because when someone passes away unexpectedly, we have to stampede through their life, trying to figure out what killed them. And it’s during these searches the dildos come out… as well as the porn, the drugs, the fuzzy hand-cuffs, the blow-up dolls. You name it, I’ve pulled it out of someone’s bed-side table. And let’s be honest, law enforcement and I try to maintain some professional decorum, but that shit is funny. And we are very much in the habit of taking pictures of such items and sending them to our co-workers. In fact, I have it on good authority there is a photo of me out there somewhere, holding up a floppy, pink rubber vagina with a quizzical look on my face. I had just pulled it out of a drawer on a scene and wasn’t sure what it was.

I was so innocent back then…

Anyway, I totally paid that shit forward.

I was on the scene of a suicide with the sheriff’s office and there was a new deputy recruit. Some dude had killed himself in his ex-girlfriend’s bedroom and as I was walking the new guy through the investigative process, I noted that the decedent had opted to shoot himself in the head while sitting on a futon in the corner. And beneath this futon was a milk-crate full of dildos. And when I say “full of dildos,” I mean there was a veritable cornucopia of sex toys.

It was too good to be true. All of the civilian witnesses had vacated the scene and I was left with an audience of two detectives, two patrol deputies, a chaplain and a dispatcher who was there on a ride-along. The recruit had been instructed to follow me and accede to my every whim. He was obediently glued to my side with eyes like dinner plates as he took in his first violent death scene. On the one hand, I felt for him. Seeing your first gun-shot wound to the head can be *ahem* a heady experience. (sorry). Not only are the visuals a bit disturbing, but also you never forget the odor of fresh blood mixed with a playfully sweet smattering of brain matter. I could have gone easy on him but, come on… dildos.

“So,” I said to him as I knelt down next to the body and motioned for the recruit to do the same. “We want make sure we don’t get too distracted by the big-old hole in this guy’s head and miss other injuries.”  The recruit swallowed hard, never taking his unblinking eyes off the decedent’s gaping cranium as he knelt down next to me near the futon.  “We need to check his chest and abdomen for trauma,” I said evenly, never missing a beat as I reached into multi-colored, rubber sex-carnival in the milk crate. “But we also want to examine his hands and arms for defensive wounds, and here… hold this.” I thrust a 12-inch purple monolith into his hands. He took it without even looking down. Keeping stride, I continued. “We’re also going to take a look at the palms of his hands to see if he’s holding anything or if there’s anything under his fingernails. Hold this.” I handed him a purple dolphin, followed by a floppy, green samurai sword. Maybe the third one put the whole ruse over the top.  He glanced down and gave a little shriek as I quickly shoved 3 more sex toys into his arms. It was at that point the assembled company exploded into laughter and someone snapped a picture with their cell phone.  To his credit, the recruit laughed along with the rest of us and in a few weeks, he completed his field-training module with flying colors. Now, years later, every time he sees me, he happily recounts the time I “handed him all those dildos.”

More recently, I was on the scene of a hotel suicide and a recruit became inexplicably flustered when I asked him for the name and phone number of the person who reported the death. I’m not sure what the detectives told him about me before I got there, nor do I know what his field training experience had been thus far. But, clearly, he expected to get skewered if he gave the wrong answer.  So he engaged in the unfortunate coping mechanism of answering questions without actually KNOWING the answers.

Upon my query, he looked like he was facing down a firing squad. “Uhhhh… ummm…” he frantically scanned his notebook. “Her name was… ummm Grace.”  

I cocked my head at him. “Ok…” I responded carefully. “Go on.” 

He glanced back at his notebook and listed off “Grace’s” number.  The detectives behind the recruit snickered as I sighed.  “That’s MY number and MY name is Grace,” My voice dropped this little fact on him like a Looney Tunes piano.

“Oh.. ummm… sorry…” He fumbled around with his notebook, even more flustered than before, flipping through his scrawl and trying to get his tragic life together. I took a step forward, reeled back and THWACK!  I didn’t “slap” him so much as I issued a hard re-set to the back of his bald head with my hand. 

The detectives gasped and the recruit blinked, speechless.  I glanced up at the detectives who, judging by their expressions, didn’t know if they should high-five me or call a supervisor. “What?” I challenged them, “Are you guys gonna arrest me?”

“I didn’t see a thing.” One of them coughed out.  As for the recruit, he shook his head and turned to me. “Thanks,” he said. “I needed that.”

I’ve abused other police- both recruits AND veterans alike.  I’ve made them draw vitreous from dead people’s eyeballs for me (a feat achieved by sticking a syringe into the eye and then pulling the plunger out while the eye deflates like a tired balloon). I’ve forced them to hold an umbrella over me to shield my delicate Scottish skin from the sun on out-door scenes (I’m actually Hungarian). I’ve bull-dozed them into smoking cigars with me on decomps in order to suppress the smell.  But I’ve also pulled recruits aside and told them they’re doing fine and they just have to endure the training process a bit longer.  I’ve praised them to their field trainers when they’ve really had their shit together.  I’ve EXHAUSTIVELY marched them through the investigative process, even when I was pissy and tired and didn’t want to bother. Throughout all of these antics, I wouldn’t say I ever crossed the line of becoming downright ABUSIVE. I mean, sure, I did slap that one guy in the head, but he thanked me afterwards so it doesn’t count.

But then again, I have to admit there WAS one time I really let loose on a cop- or rather two times…

My husband has a female friend.  And as he and I were dating, his female friend became MY female friend.  Her name is Sara and she’s awesome.  For a brief period of time, Sara was dating one of Mike’s co-workers. I’d call him Dickbag, but it’s already taken.  So… how about we call him TFC for “THIS FUCKING CLOWN.”

Sara met this fucking clown on a dating app. She showed me his profile and in the description he stated that he was separated from his wife and the divorce was imminent -which was the first red flag. In some of his pictures he was in uniform with the police agency’s name clearly visible -which was the second red flag. I’m not sure how other cop-shops operate, but around here administration really isn’t cool with officers cashing in on their badges in order to score some tail.  They don’t like the liability involved if the dude starts misbehaving, resulting in a big fat campaign about shitty cops doing shitty things to women online. In fact, posting a picture of himself in uniform on a dating app would have been grounds for an ethics complaint, a review and possibly a termination.  And even though we didn’t LIKE that this fucking clown had hooked up with our friend in this way, she was super enthusiastic about him so we bit our tongues and sat back to see what would happen. 

It didn’t take long. A couple of weeks maybe.

I don’t remember where I was, but Mike called me and said that he and Sara were at a local bar and I needed to join them, post-haste. 

When I arrived, Sara was sloppy drunk and Mike was infuriated.  As I approached them, she caught a glimpse of me over Mike’s shoulder and tumbled off her bar-stool.  She staggered over and threw he arms around me, choking back sobs. “TFC isn’t getting divorced…” she whispered in my ear. “He NEVER was..” the statement skipped in her throat like a record. I guided her back to the bar stool and the whole story dumped out. TFC had been very hot-and-cold with Sara, always wanting to hook up, but then disappearing for days at a time.  He would go on and on about how difficult his situation was… what with his two daughters caught in the middle of this divorce and all the property to split.  He didn’t have an actual timeline yet, but it would be over soon. Then he and Sara would be free to pursue a future together.

And while Sara was painfully hung-up on him… she’s also no dumb bunny. TFC didn’t have social media accounts, but you better believe his wife did.  And it didn’t take Sara long to find them.  And that’s how Sara found out the truth.  TFC and his wife were still very much together and blissfully happy according to reports.  The times that TFC hadn’t been available to Sara, it was because he and his wife were taking long weekends at the beach for their anniversary, or attending their daughters’ soccer games.  Sara waved her phone in my face as the tear-streaked story ran on.  When she had attempted to confront him about his lies over text- including screen shots of his wife’s facebook- THIS FUCKING CLOWN abruptly vanished.

Mike’s typically jovial face was a steel mask of tension as I turned to him. “I didn’t know,” he said, answering my question before I asked it. It was clear he blamed himself, but neither Sara nor I did. The sheriffs office is a big place, as much as everyone knows each other’s business, it’s impossible to know EVERYONE’S business.

My outrage was already a growing thing- a building cloud of anger, blacking out rational thought as I groped for a suitable course of action. Slashing his tires or setting his house on fire crossed my mind. But not with any real intent. Mike and I knocked around the idea of calling in an ethics complaint to administration, but Sara showed us that TFC’s dating profile had already been scrubbed of any law enforcement references or photos (which was all administration would care about). I wanted to contact his wife, but Sara asked me not to… possibly holding out hope that this would all prove to be a misunderstanding. And since it was her broken heart, I let her govern our responses… as unsatisfying as that was.

THIS FUCKING CLOWN never contacted her again, never acknowledged his behavior. He just skittered away like a spooked cockroach. The whole mess really destroyed Sara. But in a little while, she was back on the dating merry-go-round. She’s about to get married, actually… to a pretty goddamned awesome detective in a neighboring jurisdiction. When we hung out the other day, I brought up TFC and had to remind her who he was. She had completely forgotten him.

But I never have.

I believe the saying goes something like this: “There are only two certainties in life: Death and Taxes.” For the law enforcement officers in my county, there’s only one certainty: “Sooner or later, you’re going to end up on a death scene with me.”

I could wait.

Eventually, THIS FUCKING CLOWN had to start paying down his debt to me and mine. But it had slipped my mind until I heard someone say his name on the scene of a brutal 3 car pile-up. He was taking lead on the accident report which meant that he was standing close by, watching as I pulled a mangled body out of a driver’s seat through the sunroof and laid the deceased individual on the roadway. Maybe someone, somewhere told him I was fun to work with, because TFC stepped up to me chuckling. “Wow!” He grinned. “I could never do your job!”

I straightened up to my full 5’10” height (6’1″ in boots) and leveled a flat stare at him.

“That’s because you’re a fucking pussy,” I spat with a careless shrug… making sure it was loud enough for everyone within a 10-foot radius to hear.

Now, I don’t normally say things like this… but in his case, I was willing to depart from my fiercely held aversion to gendered insults. Because when you really want to fuck with someone in front of their own demographic, you need to know their culture and speak their language.

The surrounding officers did not disappoint. A collective gasp rose from the gathered company, followed by a snicker, a chortle, then a rainfall of laughter.  A couple of officers gave the obliging: “Duuuuuude!” or “Daaaaaammnnnn!” TFC shifted his weight from side to side, uncomfortable but trying to play it off. He attempted a weak smile and shuffled away to do something else. I congratulated myself on a successful first strike and went back to work. Sure, he had no idea why I had just eviscerated him in front of his co-workers, but the goal was for him to suffer, not to understand. And to be honest, I wasn’t going to give him any more explanation than he gave Sara. 

The following day, TFC was on another scene with me. This time, some dude was found deceased in his home by a friend. Nothing about it was suspicious, but the scene investigation was still mandatory according to state law.  And when I walked into the home, This Fucking Clown was standing in the front hall, awaiting my arrival.  I sighed as though the mere sight of him made me weary and I barely acknowledged him as he rattled off his report. My indifference seemed to unnerve him even more than my abuse the day before. Every word was a stutter, every gesture was a fumble. I rolled my eyes and groaned at each disfluency. When he started dropping everything he picked up, I let loose. “Jesus Christ!” I snapped as his pen slipped from his hand for the third time. “What the hell is your problem? Get your fucking life together!”

He blinked and picked up his pen as the other officer in attendance snorted. Making some excuse, he walked back out to his car to pout and I didn’t see him again for the rest of the call.

Later on, Mike told me that he’d done a little recon on his own and discovered that This Fucking Clown had a habit of illicit bullshit. In his previous police force, he had gotten a dispatcher pregnant and had to high-tail it out of town in a desperate attempt to save his marriage… allegedly. It was just a rumor, but given his behavior with Sara this wasn’t exactly a last-chapter revelation.

Asshole.

It’s been two years. I haven’t run across This Fucking Clown again, but I have no intention of easing up.  Maybe the next time I see him, I’ll just flat-out ask him if he knows why I hate him so much.  Then I’ll tell him that one of his conquests is my friend and I have a blistering disdain for serial cheaters who abuse my people. And I mean… ALL my people.

Because it’s not just about Sara’s broken heart, TFC’s unsuspecting wife or whatever woman he descends upon next. This Fucking Clown makes everyone look bad. The last thing our county needs is some over-sexed man-baby with a badge, sticking his dick into an agency-wide scandal. Administration won’t do anything about it.  The Sergeants won’t do anything about it.  His fellow deputies CAN’T do anything about it, which means it’s up to me to let him know someone’s on to him.  And keeping with my friend Chris’s theory about hazing, I have both a point and an end:

The point being I’m no longer tolerating shitty behavior in what I consider to be my house

And it ends when you‘re gone.

The Truth of The Matter: Acting Out Part 3

When last we left our ignoble heroine, I was laying in bed, trying to sleep when my husband stumbled in. He had just let me know that there was a homicide in our jurisdiction and I was probably going to get paged to the scene in the near future. if you recall the previous incarnation of the acting out series, (https://deadmensdonuts.com/2021/04/06/the-truth-of-the-matter-acting-out-part-2/ ) I had just worked a gnarly day, and was hoping to sleep through the night. Alas it was not to be.

All thanks to the love of my life, who was just trying to be helpful. Jerk.

I kid. I kid. Mike really is great. Even when he tumbles into bed, telling me that I’m going to be called to a homicide scene at some point in the next 3 hours… he’s still great. He’s patient and thoughtful and kind…

But I’m not.

I’m not gonna lie. I have a mouth on me when I’m feeling saucy and it’s not a secret to anyone. Our office recently hired a new chief deputy medical examiner for our program. That’s right, I have a new supervisor. And he knew me for approximately a week before presenting me with a t-shirt that read: “I’M TOO CLUMSY TO BE AROUND FRAGILE MASCULINITY.”

You know, it’s SO important to feel SEEN by your co-workers…

So, compared to the kinds of atrocities I regularly visit upon my husband, I really have no room to be complaining about a little lost sleep.

Don’t believe me? Hold my beer and watch this:

It may surprise you to know that the medical examiner’s office only goes to the scenes of roughly 50-60% of deaths in our county. Years ago, I interned in a city that demanded scene investigations and autopsies for virtually EVERYTHING, but these days I find myself in a jurisdiction that happily gives its death investigators just enough rope to hang ourselves. Let me explain. At any given time, there is exactly ONE medico-legal death investigator on duty for a county that contains over 600,00 souls. While many deaths don’t have to be reported to the medical examiner’s office, we couldn’t possibly do a scene investigation on every death that DOES have to be reported. (I mean, we probably could if we had to, but no one is going to approve that kind of overtime.) So, what these deaths look like is this: The cops get to a scene, get a good description of what’s going on, then call the medical examiner’s office to report the death and the circumstances of that death. If there’s no suspicion or evidence to suggest the death is an accident, homicide or suicide, the deputy medical examiner will write up a brief case file and give their blessing to release the body to a funeral home. (There are a lot more nuances to these scenarios but that’s it, in a nutshell.)

This means that, quite often, the number of death scenes I have to go to during a given shift depends upon how well the cops do their job. If a police officer calls me from a death scene with an incomplete, confusing or suspicious story, I’ll veto the release and come out to the scene myself to make sense of whatever has happened there.

“You should probably come out to this one, I’m PRETTY sure it’s not a natural death…”

It’s not a perfect system, but it’s all we’ve got. I function in it the best I can. But it can be a little crazy-making when I’m already elbow-deep in work and some lazy officer calls with a half-cocked report that really leaves a lot to be desired. Now, I’m not saying that sometimes these officers do shitty work on purpose because they want me to come and take the investigation off their hands… actually, that’s EXACTLY what I’m saying. Sometimes the officers do shitty work because they’re hoping I’ll come and take the investigation off their hands.

Knowing this, I recently employed a new tactic, hoping to encourage more thorough work from the boys (and girls) in blue.

The idea came to me a few weeks ago when I was buried with paperwork and the pager kept going off, heralding more and more death scenes. For a while, I would tell dispatch that I would give them a dollar if they told everyone on a death call to just keep doing CPR until my shift was over. But since that wasn’t working, I upped the ante.

“Hey, listen…” I had said to the officer who had just paged me with another death scene. “I’m really dying today. I have a ton of cases and I really don’t need another complicated story. So I’ll tell you what, if you can make it so I don’t have to come out to this scene, you can punch Mike in the dick.”

I was referring, of course, to that officer’s co-worker and my darling cop-husband. If you recall, Mike and I met on the scene of a death and our relationship has been both the delight and curiosity of the entire department. I say “curiosity” because when Mike and I first got together, apparently the entire police force was asking him if my home was decorated with torture devices and skulls.

I could hear the officer perking up on the other end of the line when I made him this offer.

“Really?” he asked

I shrugged. “Sure.”

“Okay!” he responded. Then he proceeded to give me perhaps the most concise and complete scene report I’ve ever gotten from an officer. He practically counted the cracks in the sidewalk in front of the dead guy’s house. I deemed the death releasable. The funeral home came and got the body. The officer and I wrote up our reports and we all went on our merry way. I was so pleased with how the whole scheme turned out that I used the same tactic a few more times before my shift was done, telling officers that they could punch my husband in the dick if they did a good job reporting their death scene.

In my defense, I knew I was totally joking. I don’t presume to have authority over Mike’s dick, even though that is a common assumption about the husband/wife dynamic. While we’re absolutely monogamous, our marriage isn’t necessarily “traditional.” When asked, we’ve compared our union to that of a couple of feral cats living in the same dumpster. We come and go on our own schedules and sleep together every now and then. We love each other but we certainly don’t answer to each other.

So, you can imagine my surprise when Mike came home a few days after that evening and confronted me.

“Did you tell Gardner that he could punch me in the dick,” he demanded as he dropped his gear and put his hands on his hips.

“What?”

“Did. You. Tell. Deputy. Gardner. He. Could. Punch. Me. In. The. DICK?”

“Oh… Jeez. Maybe? Probably? Why, what happened?”

And Mike launched into his story. By his description, he was hanging out at the precinct, talking to the guys. All of a sudden, Deputy Gardner ran up beside him and gave him a very enthusiastic junk-fist right to the nuggets. Then Gardner ran away, yelling over his shoulder: “YOUR WIFE SAID I COULD!!!!!”

“Oh my god,” I snorted. Then I told Mike the etiology behind the attack.

“Jesus, babe! How MANY people did you give permission to punch me in the dick?”

“Ummm, Five? Six maybe? I’m really not sure.”

“I have to worry about five or six people just… spontaneously punching me in the dick?”

“Calm down,” I said, trying to choke back laughter. “I never told them you weren’t going to hit them back!”

“Christ.”

On the upside, only one other deputy has cashed in on his reward for a death-well-done. And I’m pretty sure it didn’t do any permanent damage.

All this simply to say, comparatively speaking, I really can’t complain. Mike has never told anyone they have free rein to assault my genitals in order to make his workday easier. And he really thought he was doing me a favor when he warned me there was a homicide coming down the pike. Maybe it really was a favor. After all, I wasn’t filled with rage and anxiety when the pager went off at 6 a.m. That ship had already sailed. I was already awake and waiting for it.

“Hey Grace,”

It was my good buddy, Detective Labrecht, on the line when I called the flashing phone number on the pager. I love Labrecht. To say that he and I have been thorough it together is an understatement. He and I have been shoulder-to-shoulder, on our knees in blackberry brambles, picking up pieces of a weathered skeleton that turned out to be a missing young woman who died of exposure in the woods. Labrecht and I were also together on a scene in which the “dead body” sat up and started talking to us. (She wasn’t dead, she had simply been “pronounced” by someone who was shit at taking pulses.) Hearing his voice on the line made the call-out a little easier. Death is always more fun when you do it with friends.

“You have a homicide,” I said to him, more a statement of fact than a question.

“Sure do, all the preliminaries are done and we’re ready for you to come do your thing.”

“OK man,” I yawned. “I’ll pull myself together and see you soon.”

Mike didn’t stir at all as I lurched out of bed and quietly dressed in the work clothes I had laid out the night before. I stopped at Starbucks for a quick jolt of caffeine and arrived at the scene a few minutes later: A better-than-average hotel in the big-tech part of town. I was slightly surprised. Most hotel deaths happen in seedy, little, no-name holes- the kind that rent rooms by the hour and no sane person would walk across the floor barefoot. This place was nice… or at least nice enough to have working smoke alarms.

I pulled into the parking lot and quickly spotted the nest of police cars at one end of the building. I parked nearby and scooted under the crime scene tape, pausing to tell the roster officer who I was and why I was there. I was directed in a side entrance and into an open hotel room that had been converted into a base of operations.

“Hey Grace!” Labrecht called from the couch of the suite. “Come on in and let us brief you on what’s going on.”

I greeted the other officers and detectives.

“How’s Mike doing?” a few people asked.

“Oh, he’s good.” I casually responded. “He’s tied up in the basement with a ball-gag but I let him out once a week so he can call his mom.”

Some of the officers sputtered with shock, but the ones I’ve known for a while just chuckled and kept talking. As it was told to me, our decedent was a young woman who was in one of the rooms across the hall from our makeshift headquarters. Labrecht escorted me back into the hallway and gestured through the open door and there she was, laying face-up on the carpeted floor of a better-the-average hotel room, where things like this aren’t supposed to happen.

I silently took the scene in from the doorway, noting the dark pool of blood beneath the decedent’s torso. Resuscitation equipment was scattered all over the floor. Bright yellow crime scene placards punctuated certain items: a bullet casing here, a cigarette lighter there.

“So… just so you know,” Labrecht was saying. “These other rooms…” he gestures toward the two closed doors in the bank of rooms in the hallway in which we were standing, “… they have people in them, other hotel guests.”

“What, you mean like they’re still in there?” I asked.

“Sure are,” Labrecht shrugged. “Once we figured out they didn’t have anything to do with our homicide, we asked them to stay put if it was at all possible- basically, if they decided to leave their rooms, they wouldn’t be able to come back until we’re done. Legally, we can’t hold them in their rooms if they want to leave. But we also can’t have them going in and out of the scene.”

I glanced at the closed hotel doors, noting that each of them had a little peephole in them. I had absolutely no doubt that at that very moment, curious eyes were pressed against those peepholes from the inside looking out. This was the kind of stuff you only got to see on TV, and here, the occupants of these hotel rooms practically had an all-access backstage pass to the entire investigation. In fact, the doors were set into the hallway at an angle, so while I couldn’t be sure, I suspected our uninvited audience could actually see right into the room where our dead body lay. I pointed at one of the peepholes and looked askance at Labrecht.

“Yeah,” he said. “I know. We were thinking of putting sticky notes on there or something. No one has any.”

Irritated, I glanced back at the peepholes. It was somewhat reminiscent of the nosy news cameraman from the night before. Once again, I don’t blame people for their curiosity. But I was about to handle the still-warm body of an actual shooting victim. And while the cops and I make jokes and tease each other mercilessly, being present at these moments is earned. You have to prove that you know how far is too far, you know where the joking ends and you know that, in reality, this is no laughing matter. You don’t get to sit and soak up the scene of a violent death just because you happened to get a particular hotel room.

“Hang on a second.” I dropped my scene bag to the floor, intending to pull out a sharpie and just layer some permanent marker over the little glass eyes. But after digging for a minute, I had a much better idea. My hand had closed over a little plastic bag full of dental hygiene items that I had put in my jump-bag a few eons ago. It’s not uncommon for us to go all day without a break and for about a month there, I had been inordinately concerned about my teeth. Of course that phase had passed, but the dental kit had languished, unused in my bag… until now.

I pulled out the bag and removed the travel-sized tube of toothpaste. Opening it, I squirted a liberal dollop of Crest Whitening Formula onto my index finger and smeared it over the glossy, round eyes that stared out from the hotel rooms.

actual scene photo

“There!” I said. “All better! But Labrecht has to lick it off when we’re done!”

“We’ll call the fire department and make them do it…” he clapped back.

Predictably, about 2 minutes later, the occupants of these rooms poked their heads out, saying that they wanted to leave now. So the investigation briefly ground to a halt while we escorted these concerned citizens out the front door of the hotel.

All things considered, the rest of my shift went off without a hitch… which is probably a good thing. It kind of sucked staying on the scene a good 2 hours past my off-time and then having to write up the whole thing on my own time. But that’s not actually the issue.

I don’t know.

The death was a gunshot wound. She was young and by all accounts, it sounds like the whole thing was a stupid accident: a bunch of kids goofing around in a hotel room, getting high and fucking with a gun when it went off and hit our girl right in her center mass. I tried not to do it, while I was conducting my external exam on the scene, but I couldn’t help myself. I looked into her glassy, dilated eyes and imagined her last moments- everyone screaming or crying. Her falling to the floor, probably shocked… maybe in pain. Who knows? Who knows if in that moment she wasn’t just so confused she didn’t feel a thing. I wondered if she knew she was dying. I wondered what she saw. I wondered what she felt? She probably thought about her little toddler daughter, the pictures of whom we found in her phone.

I bet she thought: This can’t just be it.

I mentioned all of this to my therapist, with whom I actually had an appointment that same day. And it felt really weird to just walk straight from a homicide into a therapy appointment with no decompression time in-between. It was like going from your lover to your wife without even pausing to take a shower. Or maybe going from a blasting site to a beauty pageant. Going from screaming to silence.

It felt scary to turn inward with all of my amour still on… and to sit in my therapist’s warm, colorful, womb-like office with blood on my shoes.

I’ll admit it, I freaked out a bit… probably because the juxtaposition was too much. But also maybe because I still had a 27 year-old mother’s ghost clinging to me, asking me what happened, where she should go next, what happens now.

Maybe there were tears.

But I’m certainly not going to admit it. Not me.

I’m a brash, smart-mouthed, quick-tongued hot-shot…

And this shift… these deaths… don’t even come close to what’s really bothering me.

NOT. EVEN. CLOSE.

Stay tuned, I’m almost ready to talk about it.

Bleach and Bleachability

So, today we’re taking a brief break from the “Acting Out” posts of yester-week, and I’m addressing a problem that has once again found it’s way into the news

Yes, folks, once again the prospect of drinking bleach has come to our attention.

I recently joined a google group for true-crime aficionados and the following news article was under discussion:

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/florida-family-allegedly-sold-thousands-bottles-bleach-marketed-covid-cure-n1265244

If you don’t feel like clicking on that link, rest assured that the majority of the information is already included in the title. A Florida family allegedly sold thousands of bottles of bleach, claiming it was a cure for the coronavirus. They called it “MMS” for “Miracle Mineral Solution.”

Florida. Amirite?

Now, most people realize that drinking bleach is not a good idea. But as I read through this article, it occurred to me to wonder what the “general-public” ruling is on drinking bleach. So, with a whole day that was packed with other stuff I should have been doing, I decided to dedicate some time to really unpacking the whole, “drinking bleach” question: We all know it’s bad… but HOW bad.

Here, I should note that while I was on my quest to really unpack “drinking bleach,” I had the movie Pride & Prejudice & Zombies on in the background.

What follows is the brief essay that I posted for all my new google-group friends to read. I call it Bleach and Bleachability in honor of Jane Austen and every bastardization that has ever been inflicted on her beloved works.

————————BLEACH AND BLEACHABILITY—————————————————

(Please do me the favor of imagining the first two lines of this being read by Kiera Knightly with a lovely baroque piece being played in the back ground as you you gaze over the English countryside:)

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a man in possession of a wife, must be in want of a means to dispose of her.

And although, heretofore, many have supposed that bleach ingestion may be a convenient and available means to such an end… in truth one must endeavor to educate one‘s self before simply adulterating the offending individual’s tea with a spoonful of Clorox.

So, obviously, we’ve all heard Trump’s speech in which he blitheringly mumbled that ingesting cleaners might cure the coronavirus.  I was just as horrified as anyone but didn’t really think about it much more than to assume that the gene pool would be well rid of anyone who looked to our ignoble 45thpresident for medical advice.  But upon being presented with this article, I couldn’t help but contain my curiosity.  Many, many years ago when I was a shitty paramedic, I remember hearing a story of a paramedic instructor who would begin the “toxicology” portion of paramedic school by opening a bottle of bleach and taking a swig of it.  His point being that everything we’ve been told about “toxic” substances isn’t always true.

sorry, wrong “poison”

I took my curiosity to my search bar, just to see what ye olde internet was saying about drinking bleach these days. One of the first articles I ran across was on the web-site Quora (which apparently doesn’t waste much time with fact-checking). A young man by the name of Luke Harrison stated: “just a little sip of bleach can kill you.” He then launched into an admirable work of gruesome science fiction in which he boldly stated that this, “little sip of bleach” would do a person in within 15-30 minutes. He then described how, if someone survived, the bleach would have burned the esophagus and stomach to such a profound degree that the unfortunate soul would have to get an “esophagectomy” and would never be able to eat solid food again.

Feeling somewhat doubtful, I then checked Luke Harrison’s credentials and discovered that he expects to graduate from college in 2023, AND he wrote this little treatise on bleach drinking in 2018.  So… yeah… pretty confident in his medical knowledge for a high-schooler.

Quora… it’s a real think tank…

FINALLY, I simply went straight to the source and called the state chief forensic pathologist and asked him about the toxic effects of bleach.  He said that the toxic effects of bleach are almost completely dependent on the concentration of the substance and the overall health of the person drinking it.  Most people wouldn’t have easy access to highly concentrated bleach and would have to settle for whatever could be found on store shelves.  These products typically top out at a concentration of 6%.  

The biggest issues tend to be less about the theoretical “burning” of the esophagus and stomach (although bleach is corrosive and this can be a problem if you have pre-existing tears, ulcers or esophageal varices due to other health issues) The real concern seems to be more the bleach altering the pH of your blood, because let’s all remember… what you put in your mouth, ends up in your bloodstream. Human blood has a pH of 7.35-7.45, whereas bleach has a pH of 10-11 (making it alkalotic, NOT acidic.) This can do a number on your blood cells (they will hemolyze and die, flooding your bloodstream with blood-cell debris) and result in an acute kidney injury that, again, may be further complicated by an already existing condition.

So… what does drinking bleach do?  Well… it depends.  In a healthy individual, it’s reasonable to expect that drinking a cup of bleach won’t feel GREAT, but it won’t kill you.  Especially if you chase it with a whole lot of water and a swift kick to the ass… because, why the fuck are you drinking bleach, idiot? It’s also reasonable to expect that REPEATEDLY drinking bleach will cause enough problems that you’ll end up in a hospital long before you actually die.  At that point the hospital staff will (hopefully) stop you from drinking bleach and get your dumb-ass better so you can go out and find other bone-headed ways to do yourself in.  Finally, it’s reasonable to expect that continuing to drink bleach WILL kill you as repeated exposure to the substance will eventually cause an esophageal or stomach perforation followed by sepsis.  And/Or it will eventually turn your kidneys into grumpy little brown nuggets who won’t want to do their job anymore due to the lousy working conditions.  

But remember, these outcomes largely depend on the concentration of the bleach.

So ultimately- FUCK THESE GUYS for selling people bleach and telling them it was a miracle coronavirus cure.   And as for Luke Harrison… well, judging by his completely unfounded confidence in his own knowledge of what will kill you and what won’t, I don’t expect we’ll be bothered with his Quora opinions much longer. 

Oh… yeah… and if you want to kill your wife, bleach poisoning probably isn’t the most expeditious way to pull it off.  Feel free to hit me up for a more effective method.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

Anyway, while none of my new friends have yet asked me for new and different ways of dispatching an unwanted spouse, I did receive one marriage proposal.

Not sure how to feel about that…

The Truth of the Matter: Acting Out Part 2

Where were we?

Oh right…

(I could have modeled for this picture, it looks a lot like me- check out this artist: Rob Bowyer massivefaceart.com)

Anyway, when last we were with our hero (me) I was uttering my favorite tagline-

“Fuck.”

If you recall, I had just driven a nosy news cameraman out of a death scene like Jesus Christ driving the money-changers out of the temple.

Something like that… but he has better hair.

I was standing over a dead homeless guy who didn’t have any identification or belongings on him. He also didn’t have any teeth, shoes or socks and I had no idea what to do since it looked like we didn’t have access to a mobile fingerprint machine (Horay for defunding the police!)

You know what, rather than have me muddle through a recap, you can just read my last post here:

The Truth of the Matter: Acting Out- Part 1

Moving on.

I found myself in something of a conundrum when it came to identifying this dead guy. The officers were already texting pictures of his face to other cops and asking if anyone recognized him.

“Okay,” I said, shaking off my dismay and resolving to carry on. “Here’s the plan. Let’s load him into my truck and take him to the closest funeral home. I’ll call the crime scene people and see if they can give me some direction with fingerprinting him. I’ll also call the on-duty sergeant and see if he can help us at all.”

More than anything, I just wanted to get this guy off the street and into a well-lit room where I could get a good look at him. He might have had tattoos or scars under his clothes that would help us out. He was also wearing walking casts (otherwise known as ortho-boots) in lieu of shoes and I hoped he might have his ID or some other significant paperwork tucked into the padding of these medical devices. Speaking of, the fact that he wore these boots was helpful. He had to have gotten them from a hospital, which meant he had been registered and discharged. SOMEONE had this guy’s name, date of birth and medical history. I just had to figure out who.

Fashionable AND functional!

As planned, I launched a few frantic phone calls as I drove to the funeral home. Predictably, the crime scene people ignored all of my communication, even when I sent them this delightful little text:

Will you PLEASE come and fingerprint this dead guy for me?

Shockingly, the addition of a hairless cat didn’t make my entreaty any more tempting to my colleagues. And the only suggestion I had gotten from the on-duty police sergeant was that I should do my best to fingerprint the decedent myself and then take the print cards to the crime lab the next day and hope someone was there to run an AFIS check on them.

“But doesn’t anyone have any of those mobile fingerprint machines? I could swear you guys had them.”

“Nope,” the disappointment was heavy in his voice. “Well, technically we have a whole mess of them sitting in our property and evidence room, but as far as I know the entire county discontinued the program. For a while the transit guys had them- but now…” his voice trailed off. It had been great while it lasted. When we had an unidentified body, we could call for an officer with the AFIS machine and they’d come to the scene and scan the dead person’s fingers. With 10 minutes and a good wifi signal, the machine could produce an ID and rap sheet for anyone in the national database. It was pure magic… but also a pure magic no one in administration wanted to pay for. Now we had a property room full of expensive door-stops and no magic except whatever I managed to conjure up with nothing but curse words and my own rage.

I sighed.

“Okay, well… we’re going to get a better look at this dude at the funeral home and see if we can find anything that might give us some direction.”

“Okay… I guess give me a call if I can do anything more to help?”

I was too irritated with the circumstances to say goodbye. I was tired, hungry and realizing that my options for identifying this dude were shrinking like styrofoam in a fire. Getting him unloaded and undressed at the funeral home didn’t offer much hope. He was completely free of tattoos or significant, identifying scars (except for the previously mentioned mess of track marks and non-specific scars on his arms. But those were hardly distinctive since most homeless drug addicts display these same markings) Again, he had no teeth so dental wasn’t an option (not that it often is). I tore his ortho-boots apart in the hopes he might have squirreled away his ID in there, but no dice. The only unique thing about him was the fact that the ortho boots came off to reveal our dead guy had undergone bilateral foot surgery sometime in the last few months and the stitches were still there. It was like he’d been born on the moon and fallen out of the sky.

“Well fuck,” I said again, turning to the officers who gazed back at me blankly, waiting for some direction. “Okay. So we know this guy has been to a hospital. We found him midway between St. Joseph’s and Kaiser so here’s what we’re going to do. Take pictures of his surgical sites and his face, take them to St. J’s. I’ll do the same and take them to Kaiser and we’ll see if anyone in the ER remembers him.”

It was a haphazard plan, but one based in experience. Back when I was a paramedic we were on a first-name basis with every homeless person in the city. Due to their lifestyle/circumstances they were susceptible to any manner of medical emergency: overdoses, assaults, hypothermia, catastrophic illnesses. Not to mention the fact that sometimes they just wanted to sleep indoors so they would flag down a cop or ambulance and claim they had chest pain. A lot of ER’s have to ban these “frequent flyers” because they can fill up every bed in the department in a matter of hours on a cold night, leaving no resources available for actual, life-threatening problems.

The officers and I had just raided the fridge at the funeral home for snacks and drinks and we were gearing up to sally forth into the night to procure an ID when the sergeant called back.

“Who’s you favorite cop EVER?!” he demanded of me… which is kind of a trick question since I’m married to one. But I was in a bind so I went ahead and threw my husband under the bus.

“Ummm… you are?”

“You bet your ass I am! It just so happens that I went to the police academy with the on-duty sergeant in *next county over* And I pulled probably the biggest favor OF MY LIFE. He’s sending a couple of officers over with an AFIS machine.

“NO SHIT!”

“None at all!” I could hear him, beaming with pride over the phone. “They’re about a half hour away. I gave them your number so you should be hearing from them when they’re close. And we owe somebody BIG for this.”

He was right. The county that was generously loaning us 2 officers and an AFIS machine had over 200-and-counting continuous nights of ANTIFA protests. Their city was being torn apart at the seams and they were severely understaffed and probably hating life in a way that I couldn’t even fathom. But here they were, coming to my rescue with a magical, expensive door-stop that actually WORKED.

To be fair, they probably couldn’t wait to get out of their county…

When the promised officers arrived, it was all I could do to keep myself from kissing their feet. I greeted them at the door with maniacal cheer and immediately offered them the funeral home’s entire stock of cookies and mixed nuts. If there had been champagne, I would’ve uncorked it and sprayed it all over the ceiling, I was so excited.

They were understandably, a little weirded out by my enthusiasm at their arrival. But I couldn’t help it. I was giddy with relief at the thought of getting my decedent identified and wanted to make sure they knew how much I appreciated them.

At first the AFIS wouldn’t take a print off the dead guy. But I fixed that by wrapping his thumbs in warm, wet, paper towels. This is also how we unlock dead people’s finger-print phones as well. It seems, phones require a warm fingerprint and AFIS machines feel the same way. So that’s a trade secret I guess… you know- should you ever have need of a dead fingerprint.

Anyway, once the officers had a usable print, they went back to their car to plug the machine into their computer, warning me before they left that it was always possible our guy wasn’t in the system. I nodded like a grinning bobble-head and offered them another package of trail mix, gushing that I understood and I was just happy that they showed up to help. They excused themselves and I glanced over at the local officers who were staring at me in astonishment. It appeared they were utterly amazed at my transformation from a surly, disillusioned monster to a cooperative, charming hostess. Little did they know that I was raised by a Boston debutante and no one can maintain appearances like a bourgeois housewife. As far as I can tell, I was born to serve hors d’oeuvres as the world burns.

Can I interest you in another sparkling water?

We had been told it would take about 15 minutes for the AFIS machine to render a verdict, and my nerves crawled with the agitation of the wait. I stood in the vehicle bay of the funeral home, vibrating and twisting my keychain around in my hands until finally the anticipation proved to be too much. My decedent was laying on a prep-table in the vehicle bay as I was moving him to the cooler when our fingerprint saviors showed up. I started hopping around, first on one foot, then the other, shaking my keychain in time with the imaginary ticking in my head. “Come on! Come on! Come on!” I silently prayed. My hopping looped into a wide circle around the decedent as I tried to discharge the nervous energy. One local cop had gone back to his squad car to write up reports, while the other stood in the corner, watching as I rotated around the dead body.

“What are you doing?” he finally asked.

“I’M PERFORMING A DANCE TO THE FINGERPRINT GODS! WHAT THE FUCK DOES IT LOOK LIKE I’M DOING?” I shouted

And with that I began waving my arms over my head in dramatic swirls, shaking my keys, jumping and twirling as I circled the body. “You should join in! It might help!”

He didn’t.

All the same, a few minutes later, the visiting officers came back into the funeral home with wide grins. We had a hit. The AFIS machine displayed the driver’s license photo of our dead guy, clear as day. And listed along with his name and date of birth, was an array of arrests for criminal trespassing, drug violations and theft. Even better, our dead guy had an incredibly bizarre last name which meant a next-of-kin search would be a damn sight easier than if he was just any old John Smith.

Jackpot. We were saved.

I fell all over myself thanking our guests and sent them along with a virtual cornucopia of soda pops and munchies. It was well past dark and inching toward bedtime, but I was convinced that I’d be able to get this guy sorted out and the majority of my paperwork done before my shift ended.

In a matter of hours I was cozied up in bed, sleepy and satisfied that my upcoming days off wouldn’t be choked up with unfinished reports or unreturned phone calls. My husband was working late so I was luxuriously spread out over the entirety of the mattress when he stumbled in. It was about 3 am, 5 hours to shift change and I’m pretty sure he thought he was doing me a favor when he grunted to me as he threw himself into bed:

“There’s a homicide. The detectives are going to be calling you in about 3 hours.”

3 hours.

(brief side note- it’s pretty normal for the detectives to wait to call the medical examiner when they’re on the scene of a homicide. Since I’m investigating the death but not the crime, I don’t really need to be present for all of the crime scene photographing and fingerprinting- which can take HOURS. They usually only call me when the body is ready to be moved.)

I did the math in my head. 3 hours put me at 6am. Shift change was at 8am. It’s kind of an unspoken rule that if you’re going off shift, you only have to loosely handle anything that happen the last hour of your shift. Meaning from 7am on, anything complicated or lengthy (like a homicide) would be held over for my incoming co-worker.

But they weren’t going to be calling me at 7, they were going to be calling me at 6. This homicide was all mine.

“Fuck.”

Stay tuned for Acting Out, Part 3- The mintiest finger in the west!

The Truth of the Matter: Acting Out- Part 1

I misbehave.

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.”

No shit.

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.

-INCIDENT #1-

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.”

“Well, fuck.”


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?

Ok.

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…

And

The unauthorized application of toothpaste in an unorthodox fashion on the scene of a homicide.

Stay tuned.

New Podcast Episode!

Hey there folks…

Here’s another survival story. This one comes from the faraway land of Mexico… where my friend Duque managed to survive a shootout and kidnapping attempt… then he managed to leave that life behind and simply commit to social justice, cold drinks… and cooking tacos.

Charlie's Story Part 2: "If you ever touch me again, I'll stab you in your sleep" Dead Men's Donuts

Charlie was victimized by her mother's husband from the time she was 6 years old.  As a young adult she continued to live under the thumb of his narcissistic abuse and even gave birth to his child.  But Charlie wasn't going to spend her life in that cage.  And there's nothing more dangerous than a woman who has nothing left to lose.  This is part 2 of a 2 part-story.
  1. Charlie's Story Part 2: "If you ever touch me again, I'll stab you in your sleep"
  2. Charlie's Story: "If you ever touch me again, I'll stab you in your sleep"
  3. Deb's Story: How getting punched in the face can save your life
  4. Rachael's Story: Going Full Cockroach
  5. Duque's Story: Cold Water on a Hot Day OR How to survive a Mexican Shootout

New Podcast Episode!

Hey guys…

So, now I have two new blog entries in the works… because things happen faster than I can write about them. But they’re coming. I swear they’re coming.

In the meantime, here is a new podcast episode-

This is a story of miscommunication, racial tension, and 75 tootsie rolls (or a laser pointer)

Charlie's Story Part 2: "If you ever touch me again, I'll stab you in your sleep" Dead Men's Donuts

Charlie was victimized by her mother's husband from the time she was 6 years old.  As a young adult she continued to live under the thumb of his narcissistic abuse and even gave birth to his child.  But Charlie wasn't going to spend her life in that cage.  And there's nothing more dangerous than a woman who has nothing left to lose.  This is part 2 of a 2 part-story.
  1. Charlie's Story Part 2: "If you ever touch me again, I'll stab you in your sleep"
  2. Charlie's Story: "If you ever touch me again, I'll stab you in your sleep"
  3. Deb's Story: How getting punched in the face can save your life
  4. Rachael's Story: Going Full Cockroach
  5. Duque's Story: Cold Water on a Hot Day OR How to survive a Mexican Shootout

Lord Voldemort Rides Again!

So, I know it’s been a while since I’ve written anything. It turns out podcasts take up a lot of time, but a new adventure in mortality is almost complete. Stay tuned! But in the mean-time- here is the latest podcast episode-

Charlie's Story Part 2: "If you ever touch me again, I'll stab you in your sleep" Dead Men's Donuts

Charlie was victimized by her mother's husband from the time she was 6 years old.  As a young adult she continued to live under the thumb of his narcissistic abuse and even gave birth to his child.  But Charlie wasn't going to spend her life in that cage.  And there's nothing more dangerous than a woman who has nothing left to lose.  This is part 2 of a 2 part-story.
  1. Charlie's Story Part 2: "If you ever touch me again, I'll stab you in your sleep"
  2. Charlie's Story: "If you ever touch me again, I'll stab you in your sleep"
  3. Deb's Story: How getting punched in the face can save your life
  4. Rachael's Story: Going Full Cockroach
  5. Duque's Story: Cold Water on a Hot Day OR How to survive a Mexican Shootout

New Podcast Episode

So, here it is- Chris’s story.

Charlie's Story Part 2: "If you ever touch me again, I'll stab you in your sleep" Dead Men's Donuts

Charlie was victimized by her mother's husband from the time she was 6 years old.  As a young adult she continued to live under the thumb of his narcissistic abuse and even gave birth to his child.  But Charlie wasn't going to spend her life in that cage.  And there's nothing more dangerous than a woman who has nothing left to lose.  This is part 2 of a 2 part-story.
  1. Charlie's Story Part 2: "If you ever touch me again, I'll stab you in your sleep"
  2. Charlie's Story: "If you ever touch me again, I'll stab you in your sleep"
  3. Deb's Story: How getting punched in the face can save your life
  4. Rachael's Story: Going Full Cockroach
  5. Duque's Story: Cold Water on a Hot Day OR How to survive a Mexican Shootout

So… I’ve heard that people have had a rough time with anchor cutting off the podcast episodes after only a couple of minutes.

Has anyone had that issue?

Well- just so you know, it’s available on Google Podcasts

Or Stitcher

Or Spotify

Or Apple Podcasts

I’m sorry, I have no idea how to link those

Anyway, my point is- if you want to listen, you can find it all over the place…

and you SHOULD listen… I mean I like that people sometimes enjoy the stuff I write, but the fact is- writing essays can get kind of tedious for me when I’ve spent an entire shift cranking out case files.

SO- my own stories will continue to come suffering down the line. But in the meantime- listen to a survival story or two.

xoxox