Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ant Trails

There are dark passages in The Hive I hesitate to visit, corridors I'm almost afraid to go down without a flashlight in one hand and a .45 automatic in the other. I don't know where they lead or what's waiting for me down there.

My grandfather and my father were both cops. I barely remember my grandfather. He was a big Irishman who smoked cigars and threw his blackjack at me when I tried to lift it off his belt. I was six or seven. I gave him a wide berth after that, and he died of a heart attack the next year.

My father and mother were divorced right after I was born. I spent time with him on weekends and vacations in the Summer. He was cynical and suspicious, and I don't remember him ever accepting anything I said at face value. He assumed I was lying. Maybe it was the job made him like that, or maybe he was like that and found the perfect job. I'm sure he was the kind of Southern cop who hated black people, except for the little kids. He thought the kids were "cute."

When I was four or five, my mother and I were walking home one night, and we were attacked. My mother threw me at the attacker, ran to the house and let our dog out. He was a big dog and very protective. They used to have to put him outside if they were thinking of spanking me. When the attacker turned up at the emergency room later, my father and his friends were waiting for him there.

My wife was a mid-career artist when she got the idea it would be interesting to document how institutions imprint themselves on people. She started the project in Seattle and almost joined the Seattle police, but she got a fellowship in Houston and ended up completing the project down there. She went into the Houston Police Academy right before her 35th birthday. She recently gave me permission to talk about that year from my point of view. I didn't experience it myself, though I heard some of it on the police-band radio I kept by my bed, but I have some idea of what women run into in that world. I've heard what it's like to chase a car load of kids across Houston at high speeds -- I actually listened to this one -- and then have to race on foot to get to the kids before the cops in the other cars can beat them up. I know what happens when you turn a fellow officer in for putting his gun to a kid's head. And I have an idea how it feels to go into buildings without being sure your backup will be there if you need it. I know about the three kids and the kitten with diarrhea, cooped up all day, watching television in an apartment on the East side. And I know about the helicopters that circle poor neighborhoods all night, but never go near River Oaks.

I'm sure all that personal history plays into the way I see the Gates, Crowley, Obama flap. But for the life of me, I can't figure out how.


Tom Manoff said...

Writing about it this way sure seems honest and useful. What is a blog? Is it a book? You are writing in a way that seems fascinating as memoir.

GirlfromtheBronx said...

Billy, I"ve been thinking about this all day. I don't have any adjectives to describe the complexity of my reaction to your post. I'm always struggling with wondering about thoughts that shouldn't see the light of day. How to find the balance of being truthful and honest in such a complex world? I don't know. I'm still working on that. But your truth finds a place of understanding within me. And I appreciate it.

quinn the eskimo said...

Good post Billy, but makes me feel like an asshole to say... I've never had much time for cops.

I'm never rude or abusive to them, I have just literally never had them show up when I needed them, and I needed them plenty...

As far as the ones I knew personally, from when I was a kid on up, these guys were attracted to the authority, wanted it to use over people, but were deeply socially maladjusted.

Growing up, I lived in an area where the cops were busting people for crap like bootlegging, but not for beating their wife near death or for incest or waving guns around at baseball games.

So I treat cops the way I treat deacons at Church or profs at University or something. People who feel they deserve respect, but who've never been around when anything important was going on.

I'm aware that's a pretty limited set of experiences, but it's what I got. I hope they'll be here, and be useful, if or when I ever need them. It also meant the whole Gates vs Crowley thing felt like probable Asshole vs probable Asshole to me. Didn't give a shit.

Now, if one of em had been a nun, I might have felt more like picking a side. See, I kinda respect nuns.

In fact, I'd pay good money to see a Nun pistol-whip Gates. Or Crowley. Best of all, both.

Hilarym99 said...

I love this post. And agree with Tom and GFTB.

Billy Glad said...

Dagnabbit! This place is becoming an echo chamber. Were you a cheerleader at Penn State? Is it time to break out the pom poms?

Antepilani said...

Now I know why the smallest sounds around the house when I was growing up used to encourage the wrath of the naked man running around in the dark with a .38 in one hand and a Japanese Katana in the other...