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Saturday, December 8, 2012

What Dave Taught Me- The Sunday Collage

Abandon all hope ye who enter here, lest ye learn something morbid today.

Today, I am gonna talk about suicide. My way.

A couple of days ago, I was listening to one of the satellite news channels on my way home from Reno. During the course of the broadcast, they talked about a nurse who had killed herself after two radio disc jockeys had pulled a prank involving her. She was not the target of the prank but apparently, she felt duped. The Australian disc jockeys had called a hospital in London pretending to be the queen mother and Prince Charles- and had actually conned a nurse into delivering the phone call to Kate Middleton who had been admitted for morning sickness.

It should have just been a stupid prank with little or no repercussions other than a boat load of teasing. Catch the wrong people at the wrong time and they do some outlandish things. Like kill themselves. Thus it was her turn- to pull a prank.

We should show suicide no mercy. No quarter. More on that in a bit.

I happen to know a little bit about suicide. My experience comes via my lifetime as a cop. I very rarely discuss that part of my life out of respect for those who read my blog. Some of my readers may even be related to those who I write about. So I practice some care. I don't own these stories, I was just an observer, and I sure as hell don't want to pitchfork the dead or their families.

So today, I am going to break that rule. Only because there is something to learn here and I should pass it along. Maybe, it will help somebody.

First my qualifiers. Other than my education in death investigations, I am going to estimate that I was directly involved in 75 suicide incidents over 24-25 years and probably helped with another 75. That is hardly a record and I am sure a big city cop working homicide attends that many suicides in a few years. So while I am certainly no suicide expert, I'd like to think I know a little bit more about suicide than most people.

A few years ago after I had retired- I took this job as an independent living trainer. The term, independent living trainer, was a misnomer. What I thought I'd be doing, helping kids just out of juvenile corrections and offering emotional solutions, was not what I was doing. Instead, I found myself working like a babysitter with a boss/owner who could care less about the kids- just so long as she made her fat paycheck from the state. That wouldn't have been entirely bad, had she not been one of those dominant controlling types wherein the world revolved around her. Anything employees had to say- simply didn't matter. She had the compassion of an executioner. We would have these these weekly staff meetings every Tuesday. Week after unmerciful week, she would publicly shame employees by talking about all of our mistakes each week. Or give us her armchair quarterback opinion of what we should have done. So maybe I should have been happy when she stopped the beheadings to "teach" us about suicide. (Note how I am sticking with the dead theme, pretty clever, huh?)

It's really hard to teach someone like me something about suicide. In fact, it's impossible. I couldn't take much of the executioner's teachings. She had downloaded some garbage about suicide from the internet and was passing it out. Like most people, she doesn't really give two shits about suicide. Unless of course, some fresh arrival from youth prison killed themselves in her business and exposed her to a catastrophic lawsuit. That's what she really cared about. So I had to listen to that suicide nonsense so that she could cover her insurance and state license bases. Training employees and documenting it, that's all she was doing. That's the world the lawyers and insurers have carved out for us.

I put up with some of her shit until I couldn't take it any longer. I don't know how to explain how I felt that day. It was like some fifth grade teacher who had never seen a day of combat trying to teach a Vietnam combat vet about the Vietnam War. I took it personally I guess. At any rate, I let the executioner know that maybe I knew a little something about suicide- and I didn't really like her demeaning style either. I have never been a good hostage. I shoot the hostage takers. It was all downhill from that day. I don't think I made it there, well maybe, another four weeks. Life is good when you don't need the money. Freedom.

As a cop...

I hadn't been on the job two weeks when I took my first suicide call in 1983. I wasn't really prepared to deal with the investigation, the mess, or the emotional sounds of human grief and anguish. They can't really teach you or prepare you for something like that. It is indescribable.  You have to actually live through it. Deliver the death message to the next of kin. Maybe 75 times. You have to see it, smell it, feel it. It would be years before I had accumulated enough suicide experience to really learn to hate it.

I could tell you about the guy who drove up to the mortuary's front door and killed himself during rush hour traffic on Main St. Delivered his own body in what I used to call "the dead guy drive up window." I could tell you about the old army vet who was a peeping tom and got an eviction notice from an apartment manager, so he in turn walked up to her desk and put a gun into his mouth and blew his brains out as she sat watching him. Or I could tell you about a cop friend of mine who baked me cookies, delivered them, and killed himself in a motel that night. Or another cop and a friend who was accused of a crime, a guy who walked up a hill with a bottle of tequila and a handgun and did not come back down.

I never liked tequila. Patron is tolerable.

The sounds of human anguish never really leave me. I think when most people mention suicide they think about it in a personal way or if they have no experience with it- in some simplistic way. Mention the word suicide to me and it's like a time machine. It conjures up a whole raft of memories. Preventable deaths, I thought. Especially the kids.

One guy changed my thoughts about suicide forever. 

Many years ago, I dealt with this kid named Dave. I will call him Dave because that in fact was his name. He was this weird kid who I was always busting for something. He was angry and depressed. I never looked for him- I just kept running into him. That was my history with Dave. He hated cops. He barely tolerated me. So he went into the army, got married, had kids. At least ten years went by. He had mental health issues, serious depression. He was drinking and drugging heavily. One night he was on the phone with his soon to be ex wife. In the middle of one of his drunken, threatening rants, he took out a shotgun and blew a hole in the ceiling while he was on the scared the shit out of his ex. She called the police. The cops went to Dave's house and removed 13 guns from his home. They screwed up a locked briefcase which I eventually had to pay for. So I arranged to talk with Dave about screwed up briefcases, calling wives, and blasting holes in your ceiling while on the phone. I called him the next day. I asked for a sit down and he agreed. I will never forget what he said to me after I asked if he was "current on his prescriptions." I remember staring at the hole in the ceiling as we talked.

Dave told me he was not taking his prescriptions. He was just drinking and smoking pot. He said that he didn't have any plans on taking his prescriptions either. Like I said, I had busted this guy many times. He was smart and experienced. He looked at me and said, "You can haul me in to protective custody but I'll get out. I'll tell the D.E. (designated examiner) that my life is wonderful because I know what to say." Then he told me that he was going to kill himself and that there wasn't a fucking thing I could do to stop it. Nothing. That was Dec of 2001, maybe Jan. of 2002.

He told me that the responding cops had taken his 13 guns and had missed a Colt .45 that he had kept in his car. He asked if I wanted to take it too. I told him no because he had suddenly changed my thinking about preventing these things.

On Jul. 2, of 2002, Dave had been drinking all day and got into a fight with a room mate. By then he had all thirteen of his guns back and oddly, the fight with his room mate was over a stolen gun. So when Dave's room mate came home, they argued about the gun some more, and Dave pulled out a 30-30 rifle. As the room mate fled out the front of the house, Dave shot him in the back and killed him. He then turned the gun on himself. We had a patrol car there within seconds. That cop is now a firefighter.

I was really angry that Dave had to take someone with him. Dave's journey here was an awful thing- and a day or two later I got to revisit the whole nightmare again. The parents of the young man he killed showed up. They wanted answers, closure. I don't think they got it from me. That was one of the worst hours of my life.

For years and years, I spent countless sleepless nights trying to figure out why all of this unnecessary death and destruction happens. Mostly I came to believe that the people who kill themselves are depressed. They have no spiritual solution for the problems they are facing. They do not believe a solution exists because they either practice contempt prior to investigation or they are unwilling to accept the possibility that someone else can help them. Many do not seek help. They seek to find a way to free themselves from their emotional pain and sometimes, when the booze and the dope quits working, or they do some act which is so inexcusable, the only way to escape that emotional pain, shame, guilt, or consequences- is to kill themselves. 

Dave killed himself because he was a man of his word. When he told me he was going to kill himself, I knew it was a matter of when, not if. Dave could not or would not see a spiritual solution. 

What do you say to somebody who says they are going to kill themselves? You see, I don't know. Depressed people all seem to have one other thing in common. Tell them what to do and they will buy 20 bucks worth of anything else.

You never think you will contemplate something as insane as suicide until you do. Life has a a way of bringing the sanctimonious to their knees. 

Five years later, I found myself similarly situated and as I contemplated the unthinkable, I had the benefit of 24 years worth of experience. Of people like Dave. 

You cannot stop a suicide. You may prevent and delay one, but simply stated, you don't have the kind of power it takes to stop these things. If someone like Dave is bent on killing themselves, they will. You are not God. These people are on some sort of journey of their own and they not you- must take responsibility. Do we shoulder the emotional burden of some homicidal maniac? No. So why in the hell do we feel obligated to shoulder the emotional burden for someone who commits suicide? Because we want to, that's why. They are close to us and we are frustrated that we could not stop it. Often we feel some bizarre need to punish ourselves. We feel culpable. We piece things together, over and over again. Why hadn't we seen it coming? What could we have done differently? Worse yet, did we cause it?

Of course not. People always have choices including the people who commit suicide. Sure it's tragic but what other people do ultimately...does not have anything to do with us. I can't take credit for their good decisions or their bad ones. All that is left for us- is to try and make sense of the non sensical.

The answer of course is that we cannot peer into some one's mind or see the future. The solution for us is simply acceptance and comforting those that we can. Today I can go from shock to acceptance within 24 hours. I have a spiritual solution. I do not beat myself up for failing to see the future in some fantasy crystal ball sort of way that does not exist.

I feel sorry for those DJ's. It was just a silly prank that went awry in the worst possible way. Oddly, I see them as the victims, and not the nurse.

In the end, I realize that I have always been powerless to stop these things. That life doesn't really care whether I make sense of it or not. That's what guys like Dave taught me.


Asshole Driving Mercedes Benz, Must See*Updated

This woman was shootng video of her son when she caught this precious scene.

Sometimes, when you least expect it, justice comes on really slow wings.

*Update. Just received email saying this vid was a hoax and produced for a TV ad. I haven't been able to prove it...but I suspect it probably was. If something is too good to be true- it usually is.

Government Employees Continue To Sell Us Out

Today I was reading about how one of the architects and writers of Obamacare jumped ship to take a job within the industry that will benefit the most from the bill.

She is also one of the architects of the medicare prescription plan which benefitted who? The drug industry.

So after a lifetime of sucking taxpayer money out of the government trough, Liz Fowler landed a job at Johnson and Johnson for 1.5 million a year.

And you thought bribes came in envelopes.

Not to be outdone, Jim DeMint, tea party Senator and alleged great conservative from South Carolina, also announced he was jumping ship to take a job for a million a year. That job, which is a 550% pay increase over his current 174,000 dollar Senate salary will be to head up the great Heritage Foundation think tank.

(I used a Huffpo piece to see if they spun the story counter clockwise, they did a fair job actually)

The people of this country keep buying in to a government which is no longer representative of it's citizens. It has turned into an elite club of people who use influence to make profits for the private sector. They in turn are rewarded handsomely for their efforts- while you foot the bill and clean up the mess that they have left behind.

I keep telling people that it doesn't matter which side you cling to and who you vote for. It is one giant club of crony capitalists that have a found a personal conveyer belt and a way to enrich themselves. That's what this is really all about and the sooner our economic collapse happens...the better off we will all be.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

True Gambling Stories, Reno Style

When you grow up in a mining town, you learn to live like the miners do.

I am not proud of what I'm about to tell you, but it's true. I was drinking, chewing tobacco, cursing, and gambling at the ripe old age of 11. That's how it was in Butte. In fact, all of my friends did the same things and I never really thought twice about my lifestyle as a kid. It was exciting and I thought it was normal. 

That's probably why I loved Butte.

I quit tobacco and booze years ago. Profanity is proving hard. Anyone that knows me- knows that I have always been a serious gambler. Now days, I bet horses. For 25 years, I actually played Texas Hold Em well enough to win quite a few tournaments and supplement my income. I played many nights with the likes of Phil Hellmuth, Johnny Moss, Bulldog Bill Sykes, Bones Berland, Puggy Pearson, Bill Smith, Stu Unger,  and even David Brenner...just to name a few. I used to play low limit with Steve Wynn's mother at the Golden Nugget. So I've seen and heard some wild stuff over the years. Some of it quite insane. Most of it is tragic. Wild gambling stories often come when people are loaded or drunk. 

So I thought I'd tell you a couple of fascinating stories. Both of them happened right here in Reno. Both of them happened at the hotel I am staying in. One incident happened 30 years ago, one happened tonight. So...

Thirty years ago, I was playing in a low level 1-4-8 Hold Em poker game here at the Eldorado Casino which is now connected to the Silver Legacy. Seated across the table from me was a loud mouthed bald guy, I am thinking he was in his early 50's. I was in my early 20's at the time. I had raised a pot with AK suited. One ace came on the flop. The bald guy checked, I bet and he check raised me. I re-raised and he called. The turn card was another ace. The bald guy checked again, I bet, he check raised and I called. The last card was a blank. The bald guy checked, I bet and he check raised me for the third time in a row. Win or lose, I was pissed at the way the bald guy had played the hand. Three of a kind was not the best hand so I just called. I turned over my hand. The bald guy tried to muck his cards. That's when I made my fatal mistake. I asked the dealer to see his cards.

This is perfectly legal. It is however, considered very bad etiquette. On a personal note- I have never asked to see an opponents hand before that incident and as it turns out- I would never ask to see another hand again in my lifetime. 

As soon as I called to see his hand, the bald guy who I remember now was named Joe, jumped out of his seat and started yelling at me. The entire room stopped and listened. Joe the bald guy, called me every nasty thing you can possibly think of. He was literally yelling and eventually the card room staff asked him to shut up and sit down. For the next 15 minutes this guy continued to call me names...up to the point I finally asked or demanded as I recall, that it was time we stepped outside. The only smart thing Joe did that day, was refuse to go outside with me. Back then I lifted weights for two hours a day and I was a little beyond hot at this guy. About 30 minutes later, I got up and went to the bathroom. The poker room manager followed me right into the bathroom. He said and I am quoting, "We don't need your action kid. Go back, pick up your chips and get the hell out of here. For good." When I asked him what I had done he said, "Joe plays here everyday. You don't. Now hit the bricks."

That was the last time I ever set foot in the Eldorado until last year. 

Tonight I was in the casino at about 10 PM playing Pai Gow and just relaxing. This big tall guy about 40 and his friend sat down next to me. He asked the pit boss for a marker for 20 grand. The pit boss comes over, writes the marker, and the dealer signs it. This guy promptly bets 3 grand on 3 hands, which is the table limit. The guy is drunk and so of course, he begins to win. After an hour and a half, he was up somewhere between 55 and 60 grand. The man, named Don, had just won about as much money as I will make all year, tax free. I got up to leave the table but Don was convinced that somehow, I was his good luck charm and he asked me to stay. He even offered me a 500 dollar chip. I declined the chip and hung out a while longer.

The dumbest thing I did tonight- occurred when I didn't take that chip. About an hour and a half later, Don was broke and he staggered away from the table with his friend. He bumped into a slot machine as he left. I can't tell you how many stories like that I've seen over the years. I can think of at least ten stories like that just off the top of my head without thinking. (I watched a guy lose his entire retirement one night playing blackjack) Gambling stories always seem to have the same crappy ending. I couldn't help but think tonight- what was that guy trying to win? I guess fifty or sixty grand is not something he needs. There is a part of me that finds all of that kind of sick anymore.

Don't gamble, kids. It's for suckers.  

Perhaps, I will quit gambling too. Right after I try and hit the pick 6 at Gulfstream tomorrow. 


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

From the Land of Harry Reid

Most of my trip to Reno yesterday was uneventful- except for a potential collision and near death experience I had on the "on" ramp at Winnemucca.  Unlike normally engineered ramps, there are a few ramps in Nevada that simply dump you onto the interstate and right into the slow lane. Yesterday while I was merging on the Winnemucca ramp, a trucker with his head up his ass and no traffic in the neighboring lane, decided not to let me in which sent me down the shoulder for about an eighth of a mile.

I very rarely flip these assholes off anymore- choosing instead to suffer alone in my car while dodging debris on the shoulder- muttering things I learned in Butte as a child. This incident was uniquely special and as such, I offered a friendly "wave." There was a road sign a few miles down the road that implored drivers not to drive aggressively around trucks. No kidding.

So as I rolled into Reno, I noted that the place looks like a ghost town. There is a very significant number of "down and out" types in this city and those folks seem to be growing in number. The casino was practically vacant and the sportsbook closed at 6 PM. 

I stay at the Silver Legacy. They even closed their poker room. 

I come here once or twice a year. Honestly, I don't know how this town survives. Without Californians on the weekend- they simply wouldn't. When you see places like Reno and then hear politicians and economists telling you how the economy is improving...inherently you know somebody is full of shit. I always believe my eyes, I'm weird that way.

I note that Citibank today- in the midst of this great recovery we are having- is laying off 11 thousand workers. I can't wait to see the job reports this week.

Today, I am headed about halfway to Tonopah and back while playing, "dodge the big rig." Hopefully, I can make it back here in one piece.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Silver "Potato" Story and a Reno Invasion

Late last week, I watched as JP Morgan and a couple of other banks drove the price of gold and silver down as far they could before the Dec. delivery date.

It is so predictable.

It really pisses me off that not only do the CFTC regulators look the other way and absolutely refuse to stop this collusion- but that bankers like JP Morgan get free money via the Fed's counterfeiting  QE schemes... to screw us over with. Stealing our own money which they in turn use to take more money from us. You couldn't invent a scheme as perfect as that. Precious metals are the mortal enemy of our worthless dollar. Ultimately people will pile into precious metals because there will be no other way for people to preserve their wealth.

So I stumbled onto this piece on TF Metals site. It is a must read- especially for Idaho boys and girls.

It seems that Boise's favorite son and potato magnate,  JR Simplot, was driving the price of Maine potatoes down back in 1976. He was shorting the market. When JR couldn't deliver the underlying commodity- the exchange simply eliminated the market altogether. I found this to be a fantastic story. Not only did the market bail Simplot out, but as many of us know, Simplot won the contract to provide the french fries for the entire McDonald's chain. If memory serves me correct- all of that occurred at about the same time. So I guess not everyone winds up like the Hunt brothers.

Seems JR didn't like that potato competition. Like today's banks.

Idaho's current Governor, Butch Otter, was JR's son in law. JR let him run the Simplot company up until Butch dumped his daughter. That kind of changed things a shade, but Butch had already made his fortune when JR bounced him out. Funny how that shit works. I drive by JR's grave on Latah St. just about every day. Kinda weird.

Tomorrow morning, I am headed for Reno and then Tonopah for a couple of days. I don't know what kind of connectivity I will have and I might just take a couple of days off. (or not) I'll be back this weekend.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

"You Are Entitled to Your Own Opinions, You Are Not Entitled To Your Own Set of Facts."

One of the problems with writing publicly is people have no idea what you know or how you came to know it.

Wrapped tightly in their own little cocoons, devoid of facts to substantiate a position, they utter their opinions like they know what they are talking about.

Now if you didn't know that we are 16.3 trillion in debt, that we are running medicare and social security deficits already in the billions, that we spend 1.2 trillion more than we take in year after year after year, and that we have another 77 trillion due and payable in the next 30 years....

well if you didn't know all of that....and you didn't know that Freddie, Fannie, and Sallie Mae are all bankrupt to the tune of well over a trillion...and that we have lost 50 million jobs and our capacity to pay off all this debt...

You might think we are just fine. Like this guy who left his comment to me on Huffpo. This is what we are up against. He apparently has a different set of facts than the rest of us.

“We are not bankrupt. We are nowhere near bankrupt. The level of debt we have right now while historically high is not crippling, it simply is not, and we simply are not bankrupt. No amount of your lying about it will make it so.

And both sides simply are not the same, they are not, and once again lying about it will not make it so. Democrats have routinely passed financial regulation and reform, it gets watered down by the Republicans. One side IS NOT the same as the other.

You don't get to stand off to the side and point your fingers self righteously at everyone else.”

Get Busy Living

Every once in awhile- I mean a GREAT while- something which is useful to all of us actually gets published on Huffington Post. Mostly, I have found that Huffpo writes superfluous, vacuous, and shallow bullshit- stuff which I discovered in my teens and have long since forgotten.

My friend Lisa sent me one of those rare pieces, which as it turns out, was initially put up on TED. It is about how near death experiences change the course of our lives. Or events that are so traumatic- that they initiate a whole new perspective and outlook in us. I loved the message here. It's a departure from the usual stuff I write.

This is actually entertaining, informative, and upbeat.

The Disposable Society- The Sunday Collage

"We don't fix things anymore. When something breaks, we simply replace it. It's cheaper."
-Phil at the radiator shop

One of the most difficult adjustments that I've had to make since retiring a few years ago- is adjusting to life outside of law enforcement. Here's the weird part. In terms of what I have seen in the private sector, we had our shit together. I thought the reverse would be true.

Let me tell you what it was like. We hired and trained the right people back then. We took an active interest in their lives and their development. We spent a lot of money on education. We had discipline too. But unlike life out here when something went wrong- we didn't blame the employee first- we asked ourselves, "Where did we fail to train? What did we do wrong as managers?"

Three things happened. The problem was solved about 95% of the time because we realized we had overlooked something as managers. Our employees knew that we were going to look at ourselves first before blaming or disciplining them. Time and time again- we had training mistakes. We failed to train properly.

The second thing that happened was that employees knew they were going to get a fair shake. (A few of them read this and I hope they wouldn't disagree) So it encouraged open communication which in turn- encouraged the best outcome. The employee had due process that began with us examining our own conduct.

Thirdly, we got better. We were evolving. We were taking interest in our employees' lives and doing everything we could- not to make better cops- but to make better human beings. We didn't dispose of people, we invested time and energy in employees and we treated them fairly. Every once in awhile, you would find yourself with an employee who was simply lazy or dishonest. Those are things we can't fix.

Imagine what happens when the environment you have been working in fails to honestly or properly develop employees. Instead, the organization requires blind obedience. It never examines itself. It simply overlooks it's own deficiencies, always blaming employees for misconduct when in fact, management has failed to train. There is no due process. You are simply disposed of because there are thousands of people who are looking for a job. That's how it has been since I have left law enforcement. I have become a member of our great, disposable society.

I suck at being obedient. I confront stupid in the workplace and when stupid is the boss, something is going to have to give. Our  world is filled with fragile egos and shitty managers looking for obedient workers. We have a vast over supply of those types. Desperate people who need jobs are willing to put up with all kinds of shitty management- just to survive. They become obedient sheep. Or they become disposable. The proof is in employee turnover rates well beyond the national average of 5%. The last two jobs I have worked at have turnover rates of at least 50%.

Think about that. Half of your employees leave each year. They lie and you lie about that working  relationship. We pretend. The shame of course is always borne by the departing employee. Why does this dance continue year after year? It's actually very simple. Shitty managers never look at their own misconduct first. It never happens. In fact, if you have employee turnover rates well beyond 25%- I don't care what salary you pay or what the industry is- you probably have a management problem. A dishonesty problem.

For nearly a quarter of a century, I was insulated from that world. As a manager and as human being, I got some things wrong. Mostly in my personal life. But thank God, what I didn't do, is raise any sheep. I didn't require blind obedience. I was evolving, becoming a better human being. I never looked at people like they were disposable.

Here's a key difference. I was insanely loyal to the mission of law enforcement. I was marginally loyal to managers and never loyal to bad managers. Stay loyal to what you believe in.

One other piece of advice. Today's employers aren't looking for "employees." They are looking for hostages. If you find yourself in an interview with a potential hostage taker- be sure and ask what their turnover rate is. If they claim they don't know, explore the question a bit. If they have 50 employees and they've lost 10 last year, I'd be seriously questioning why I would want to work there. This is a fail safe system for avoiding bad management. I might adjust up for a food service business or adjust down for a government job. You gotta die to lose your job at a place like the post office. They have no management. They have largesse gatherers.

The problem with living in a disposable society is obvious. We all participate in dishonesty. Nobody gets better or has to improve, we simply part company with some mutually agreed upon bullshit. When employees are treated poorly at a job that pays nothing with no benefits, the job becomes disposable. So we dispose of each other. We have forgotten the basics. Many employers have forgotten basic human decency. To help people survive not just as employees but to become better human beings and pass that along. Poor managers see no benefit beyond their immediate needs. They see no larger picture. If you were treated poorly as an employee- when you become the boss- chances are good that you will treat your employees the same way. We are de-evolving as a society. De-investing in each other. When things do go wrong, we've forgotten how to trouble shoot and repair ourselves and our relationships. We simply get rid of each other and find a replacement. It's pretty sad, really. On a macro-view, this treating people inhumanely and disposing of them is going to bite us in the ass. Not in some crappy little workplace, but in the fabric of our society. I think it already is.

"People are not radiators."