“The finest clothing made is a person’s skin, but, of course, society demands something more than this.”
~ Mark Twain
Moments after a phone call from a woman distraught to see a couple of young people park their car in her neighborhood and engage in some, ah, explicit amorous activities, Lt. South walks by my desk and sighs, “Bunch of guys running around the sports fields in thongs or less.”
“Look, you can’t do things like that! Now, I don’t know how I can explain this to you. But, it’s not only against the law, its wrong!” – Arsenic and Old Lace
Dear World At Large,
Meagain! We haven’t chatted in a while, so I thought I’d do my usual pop in and deliver a few quiet words of advice. This one’s heavy on both the philosophy and the rambling, but going to be a firm talking to nonetheless.
We live in a world of autocorrect, delete buttons, editing, photoshop, spellcheck, you name it, all of which exist to give a comforting sense that errors and perceived mistakes or flaws can be done away with. I know these are all technological examples and heavy on social media, but I think that anyone who believes these don’t inform our personal, unofficial philosophies is terribly self unaware. We live in a society that seems to believe that things we don’t like can be made to go away – whether that’s removing something you once posted on Facebook, or deleting a text message – but I am here to tell you that this is a false sense of security.
Mistakes follow you, Dear World At Large, and even if you have gone through a legal, religious/spiritual/philosophical, or paperwork laden process to atone, make restitution, or accept punishment for your actions, this is not the same thing as unmaking them. They cannot be unmade. Stupid mistakes can – and will – follow you around for a long time.
So, as a recent example, if you’re a visiting university staff member responsible for a number of students and you make a series of poor decisions culminating in the arrest of you and several of those students, putting your job in jeopardy – this is not something that’s going to just vanish because you want it to. Particularly after you’ve already appeared before a judge and plead guilty. Yelling at your friend neighborhood secretary, demanding to speak various administrative officers, and trying to pressure people to make your arrest, court appearance, and sentencing all vanish will not work. First of all, we can’t make such records and events disappear (at least not without some sort of political clout and obscene amounts of money, and even then a fairly obvious hole still gets left in the legal system). Second of all, and probably more importantly, we won’t make them disappear. See the quote at the beginning of this post.
The same is true for much less serious errors, Dear World At Large, but even small things can affect your ability to get a job, a date, housing, loans, recommendations, and even friends. As for social media, everything you have ever said, done, linked to, or ranted about is cached away somewhere in the dark bowels of the internet. On a more human note, unkind words you’ve spoken, silly errors in judgement, and countless day to day interactions are also stored away in the collective memory of your friends and associates. Nothing is really lost.
Which is why you have to be so careful! I’m not saying there isn’t room for mistakes in life (because good luck with that!) but I am saying that people need to step back and reflect more often on whether or not their actions are wise ones. It won’t protect you from everything, but occasionally it may protect you from yourself.
Unless you ascribe to reincarnation, we don’t get do-overs. We get do-betters. These can be wonderful in and of themselves, much of the good in the world has come from them, but they are not always nice experiences. You are responsible for all your actions; you can’t disavow them, you can’t be made immune from them, and there is no “Undo” button. Be smart out there.
“L’enfer est plein de bonnes volontés et désirs….” – St. Bernard of Clairvaux
A student borrowed a flatmates’ bike. Unfortunately she didn’t know the combination to the lock, and couldn’t ask for it as the flatmate was currently on study abroad deep in the rain forests of South America. She’d sent the flatmate an email asking for the code and was waiting for a reply. In the meantime, the student still had to get to class, so she rode the bike to campus and decided to take her chances by leaving the bike in a bikerack unlocked. (Editor’s Note: please don’t do this, it’s terribly foolish.)
Sadly this tale has an unfortunate end, but not in the way it usually does. Usually a member of the unwashed criminal underworld steals the bike, sells it to a pawn shop where it is sold to a dealer who stuffs the tires with drugs and uses it to take his cargo across the border. Or so I surmise.
This time, on the other hand, some nice person decided to try and help her out and locked up her bike for her. She showed up in our office in tears asking us to cut the cable so she could get home.
“This guy’s insane.” “Well, he thought he was the subject of a secret government mind control project. As it turns out, he really was being given daily doses of LSD for 11 years.” “Well, in that case he looks great.” – R.E.D.(2010)
It’s going to be one of those weeks, minions. Know how I can tell? Because Lt. South came to me and started a conversation in this manner: “Remember this guy? The one who we arrested naked in the sauna and who tried to set fire to the student center?”
Keep off the drugs, kids, they get you banned from respectable universities.
The following is a true story as told to C. Small Dog by one of the detectives. Some [tiny, practically unnoticeable] liberties taken.
It was a dark and stormy night* when this dame called up. She’d seen something horrible and thought she was being followed so she couldn’t squeal. I wasn’t in the mood to do the damsel in distress routine, I’d been drinking since noon and musing on the wretchedness of the human state for nearly as long, but she sounded desperate.
As it turned out, she did need me. She’s witnessed a kidnapping and had every reason to suspect the worst. One of ducks that lived at the campus pond had been snatched before her eyes, shoved squawking into a bag by gorilla armed goons and driven off in an unmarked car**. I suspected that the fowl had run afoul of the bootleggers and crooks who run this town – whiskey is normally involved. And if it isn’t, I involve it. I carry a couple flasks just for cases like this. You can’t see what I’ve seen and do this job sober.
A couple of contacts of mine down at the botanical studies buildings tipped me off about the car and I knew enough to trace it to a run down part of town infested with the scum of humanity and broken dreams***. I’d been there more times than I cared to count, but I had a job to do. I had to break a few ribs, but eventually I found the guys that had been hired for the job. A couple of drinks, some moody dialog and veiled threats and they squealed. They told me that this guy they called The Mallard**** came up with the plan to get back at this other guy, The Loon, by using the duck to stir up trouble. They dumped the duck at The Loon’s joint, leaving it to wreck the place and its crap all over the floor (an apt metaphor for life) before returning it, a broken bird, to its pond to live out what remained of its days.
I found this Mallard and let him know how many federal laws he’d violated, ducks were protected in this town and he knew it. Turns out he’d had his way with ducks like this before, but I wasn’t going to turning a blind eye to it. His laugh ended when I plugged a bullet in his brain***** and walked out, leaving the assorted persons and waterfowl to contemplate my anti-hero behavior and debate the wisdom of cheering a guy like me on.
I left them there, stuck in moral ambiguity, and went to the bar and let some of the boys from the precinct know I’d been doing their job for them again. They reacted with the usual disdain of the establishment when shown up by an outsider.
“Good job, Duck Tracy.”
“You quacked the case.”
“Any evidence of fowl play?”******
I didn’t care. I’d done my job. I knocked back the whiskey and headed back out streets where I belonged.
*About 3 in the afternoon
** Partial license plate
****The idiot whose idea this was
*****No one was harmed in the making of this noir
******Actual puns unleashed by our witty, witty staff
“They might in the future more than ever before engage in hunting beavers.” – Samuel de Champlain
We have a bunch of feral cats that roam campus after dark and periodically leave their kittens in bushes for us to find, we had a young bull moose on campus that trampled two cars once before being tranquilized, we have tons of deer that come down from the mountains and graze the lawns and landscaping in the early hours of the morning (once when walking to a class I heard a snapping of branches to my left, looked up and not three feet of me was a young buck munching on acorns, as placid as a cow). You get what I’m saying, right, lovelies? We attract the wildlife at Undisclosed University, we are pals with Mother Nature, we can deal with the fluffy and furry.
But every once in a while something weird happens.
For example, when a beaver crawled into a truck engine like a cat and road to campus from parts unknown. When it arrived outside the student center and the truck came to a halt, the beaver shot out and began running around looking for a new place to hid – prompting our dispatchers to be flooded with calls of, “There’s, like, a huge rat over here!” and “Kill it kill it kill it kill it!” and “My daughter just called me and told me there was a rabies infested rodent terrorizing students, and I want to make a safety complaint.”
Our officers were on the case. Armed with long poles with a lasso like loop on the end of them, they chased the beaver around campus until in Animal Control moved in to take over, by which point the beaver had retreated to another truck engine and was stubbornly refusing to budge.
We were simultaneously setting up a sting operation for stolen electronics and dealing with a domestic violence incident that required most of our on duty officers to diffuse.
“This is what fellows always run up against in the detective novels–What to Do With the Body. They manage the murder part of it all right, and then stub their toes on the body problem.” -P.G. Woodhoues
The other day, Susie was taking a break and walked around the office when she came up short at the copy machine station and froze with a sort of irritated sound.
“C., is this yours?”
In her hands was a photo of a particularly grisly murder scene that our department investigated some years back. After even just three years working here, and murder hardly a typical event, this is utterly unfazing to me. Even less so for Susie who has a good decade on me. We’re excellent people to have around in emergencies.
“Ah,” I squinted at it, “no. Definitely not. And it absolutely should not be laying around.”
See, apart from being inappropriate and gory, it’s rather a huge records protection issue to leave sensitive stuff like that just hanging out on a work table.
“Do you know the case?”
I did, from my adventure in the media lab last year.
“Would you mind – ” she thrust it at me with a wave to indicate my general responsibility and returned to her regular, less gruesome duties.
Of course, this sort of surreptitiousness (unusual in our gossipy office) aroused considerable interest on the part of some of the student employees as I went from department to department with the large photos pressed tightly to my body trying to keep them from seeing as they begged, cajoled, and outright tried to bribe me for a peek. Eventually Lt. Citrus claimed them. He had no idea how they got where they did – which seeing as it’s Halloween season, doesn’t inspire confidence as to whether or not our campus is located on an ancient burial ground filled with restless spirits.
There are days, ducklings, where the weirdness of my job is thrown into sharp relief. Most of the time it’s notarization, stolen bikes or backpacks, or basic receptionist work. Every once and a while, I’m skulking murder documents around the office like MI5.
Weirdest thing that’s happened to you at work recently, kittens?
“Let me be clear – no one is above the law. Not a politician, not a priest, not a criminal, not a police officer. We are all accountable for our actions.”
– Antonio Villaraigosa
Dear World at Large,
I get it. I really do. No one likes the police (mostly, I think, because they’ve been caught) but there is an unsubtle distinction between Fascism/Police States…and you being held accountable for your behavior.
For example! If you choose to come into a police department screaming, yelling, swearing, threatening, and gesticulating rudely…please make sure you’re in the right place for your complaint and not a completely different city and police jurisdiction. You will look rather silly if you’re not.
Alternatively, if upon realizing your mistake you choose to continue your rant (at the wrong police station) by upping the volume and threats, and a uniformed man with a badge, a gun, and the ability to arrest you asks you to leave the property, do so. Do not spout off that your father is an attorney (whoop de freaking doo for you, join the club), do not shout that he [the officer] doesn’t have the authority to arrest you, do not take a swing at the clerks and secretaries, and do not flip him [said officer] the bird and call him a “socialist, fascist, Taliban, moron!”. You’ll be cited. Not because we are fascist, but because you’re trying to hit people and trespassing.
“First thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” – William Shakespeare
Both my father and father-in-law are lawyers, lots of my friends parents are lawyers, I grew up amidst a plethora of lawyers, dumplings. Charming one and all! I never understood the all-consuming hatred some people have for lawyers… until I worked for a police department. Now in the cosmic scheme of things most lawyers come just above tabloid journalists and other assorted media vultures, followed by cockroaches. Which, as everyone knows, are the most horrifying, revolting, filthy concoction of vileness God ever turned out wandering-
But I digress. Lawyers. I am fully aware that most are decent and lovely people (this means you, Dad) but somehow I never seem to come in contact with those types professionally. For instance! The one who called me today and explained how he was representing the victim of some property damage.
He wanted to know the process of personal conflict mediation on campus and I explained and offered to direct him to the proper department, but no, that didn’t answer his question. Perhaps I could take him through the process of punishment for such behavior on campus? I explained that if the incident was a criminal matter then charges and citations would be taken up (as they always have been) by the district court, but internal university matters had a separate office for working through such things, perhaps Master Lawyer would like their information? But that didn’t help either. Finally I asked what exactly it was that I could help him with.
“Well, the two parties came to an agreement about repairing the damage, but that the other party has now refused to make any payments.”
“I see, but I’m not sure how I can help, sir.”
“What we were thinking…that is, we thought that maybe…perhaps that you would be able to punish this person…”
“I’m afraid I don’t follow, sir. As I said, that really would be a matter for the courts-”
“No, what I mean is, perhaps the university could put a hold on his student account to keep him from going to classes or anything. You know, to help us exert pressure on him?”
Which is precisely when C. the Chipper and Helpful Office Assistant turn into Humorless, Schoolmarm-ish Small Dog of the Raised Eyebrow.
“Just so I understand, you are asking for my help in involving the university in a personal dispute between private individuals, where the police department has absolutely no need and the university no right to interfere?”
“Or, more plainly, you’re asking my help in getting the university to bully this other party for your client?”
“I can’t – won’t – help you with that, sir. And nor can any other university employee I’m afraid.” Quick transition back to Chipper and Helpful C.. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“Um, no, I don’t think so.”
“Have a nice day, sir.”
Faugh! What correspondence school did you get your “law” “degree” from, pray?
“University Police, this is C., how can I help you?”
“I’d like to speak to a customer service representative, please.”
“Ma’am, I’m not a recording. How can I help you?”
“Oh, hello. I lost my purse today. I was coming to campus with my seven grandchildren – Mary, John, Paul, James, Agnes, Peter, and Martha – and we went to the museum, then stopped for lunch and went to the art museum before going to get ice cream.”
“I see. Well, ma’am, the first -”
“They all wanted strawberry, except for Agnes who hates strawberry and had to have chocolate and Peter because he’s lactose intolerant. So when I got them all home I got everything out of my car, it’s a 2008 suburban, tan, and I just got it new tires last week, I also had to get the oil changed!”
“Alright, so what you’ll need to do -”
“And frankly I was less than impressed by how difficult it was to get around campus with seven children, I really think you should make more accommodations for large families. But my purse is a large satchel, canvass, and it has my planner, my medications, and my wallet and I really need it back! Could you send an officer to go look for it?”
“I can try but I strongly recommend you come in and make a police report with us, and that you also -”
“Oh, surely no one would steal my bag and my bank isn’t very helpful. I’ve known the manager for years and you think he would be more respectful to an older woman, especially a neighbor like me. I really think that it’s a shame how people treat ladies my age! The person who served us our ice cream, except for Peter of course, was also not very helpful. You’re not being very helpful either.”
“I am trying my best, ma’am. If you could give me a little more -”
“You’re not listening to me at all. Please transfer me to someone who could be more useful.”