December 26, 2007

The Language of the Dead

It is my belief that the soul in a human body disperses after death. That does not happen immediately, I envision; but, we become a part of the greater cosmos and step into another state of being.

I cling to this belief in the hopes that there is a larger force than us; a being or community of beings which dispense righteousness in the afterlife. Perhaps the only cure for each person's pain and suffering is to learn the consequences of one's actions while they were living.

In death, observing events which make up our existence is edification for the newly departed. As we rise figuratively or literally from our bodies, we see the world as a distant entity, and we then detach from the bonds which keep us within this dimension. Our lives are displayed from creation to the end and then beyond. We view the past, present, and the future through an extraterrestrial portal in time, yet we are unable to speak. There is no verbal expression, no spoken words in the afterlife. We just are. Whatever guides us, teaches or censures us does so with its presence.

We sense them, and court is held before we finally trespass into oblivion. We are human, and shall always be in any form. The world descends from view, and we are captivated by its disappearance, seeking out those we knew and loved for one last time. The path is clear, and we step ahead to the next scene in the Kinetoscope panorama and leave behind a single message which we implore, as only the departed are able to, that it is seen and interpreted.

Clues from those who pass on can be found in a garden long since left uncultivated with a single rose for a widowed bride. A music box playing suddenly on a mantle on a little boy’s birthday after his daddy is gone, or snow on Christmas morning for the daughter who wanted to make snow angels while wearing new, winter coat that Santa never had the chance to bring for her. We are still here, and we decide which signs are for us, and which are mere coincidence, and we deny, deny, deny, until our own inevitable trial comes. The dead are so powerful.

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December 17, 2007

From Dawn until Dancing

In November of 2003, my wife and I took our two children to Disney World in Florida. This vacation was planned well in advance, and my children were allowed to make up the school work they missed while they were away when they returned from our dream vacation. My son was almost five years old and my daughter was eight years of age. The anticipation they felt was almost unbearable, and when we left to drive down to Orlando from Long Island, New York (a drive I will never make again) we felt that something wonderful was going to happen.

My wife is the most organized person I know. She did more research on Walt Disney World than I anyone I ever knew who planned a trip there. There are countless websites on Disney, each with a treasure trove of information from obscure trivia, to where the best places to find the characters hanging around are. With our itinerary in hand, it took us a little over a day to get to the park and check into our hotel, in spite of a tire blow-out we had in Baltimore on the way. Not letting that mishap ruin the mood, we settled into our All Star Movies Resort hotel room and unpacked in a hurry.

The entire week we were there we got to experience all of the rides, meet the characters for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and visit all of the parks and swim in the pools. On the last full day before we were to leave for home the next morning, we decided to toss our plans aside and just do whatever came naturally. That meant no rushing to get to restaurants, or standing on the curb for an hour or more to see a parade, or hopping the monorail to make it to some event by a certain hour. We were free, and very relaxed. By late afternoon, my wife mentioned that we should go to the Liberty Tree Tavern in the Magic Kingdom because her brother told her about it and he thought the food was good. We mentioned it to the kids and they didn’t care, so we went off down Main Street to find the restaurant which is across from the Hall of Presidents.

Inside, it wasn’t crowded, but we still had to wait a short while. Since we were under no time constraints, my wife and I were happy to sit on the benches and chat and look around at the décor. Then, we noticed that our daughter was crying. ‘What’s the matter sweety?” my wife asked.

My daughter continued to cry, not loud, and my wife asked again. “Sweetheart, what’s the matter?” My daughter looked up at her.
It’s just that tomorrow we’re going to leave, and this is our last day here, and we’re not going to come back for a really long time.” She spoke in that hiccup-like voice kids have when they sob and talk at the same time. At that moment, one of the waiters came over and spoke to her.

Why are you crying little girl?” he asked. “There’s no crying in the Magic Kingdom. This is the happiest place on Earth.” There’s a reason why Disney calls their employees “cast members.” This guy was doing a great job of acting he and came to our rescue.

You come with me,” he said “Sit down and have a great, big dinner with your mommy and daddy and your little brother.” Like a scout leader, he turned and led the way as my befuddled daughter and my son trekked behind him obediently to a room off to the side. My wife and I shrugged and followed along. He seated us at a table by a railing which overlooked another dining area a step or two lower than we were, offering a nice vantage point.

Are you still crying dear? This is the Magic Kingdom, and there is magic everywhere…” he said, and then he sprinkled “magic pixie dust” as he called it all over out table with his hand held high above his head, smiling triumphantly. On our plates and cutlery were hundreds of tiny, multicolored Mickey heads. That gesture got the children laughing. He leaned over to me as my children were playing with the pixie dust and asked me my daughter’s name and for the correct spelling.

Then, he left the table, and moments later he returned with a special certificate for our daughter. “This is an official ‘Magical Moment’ just for you.” he announced as he handed our wide eyed girl the placard. It was the size of college diploma, and printed on heavy, stock paper. “This is a magical moment you keep for the rest of your life.” After the presentation, he smiled and walked away.

The magical man left us for good and in the capable hands of a fellow server who hailed from Long Island where we live. He took excellent care of us, and we were visited by all of the characters. I took so many photos and video, that we ran out of film and my video camera’s batteries were almost spent. After our meal and dessert, one of the characters, Meeko, the raccoon from Pocahontas, escorted us from our table all the way outside and bid us adieu.

Before we left, the waiter pulled me aside gave me two birthday cards, each signed by every character we met that evening: Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Meeko, Chip and Dale, Pluto, and “all of the folks at the Liberty Tree Tavern” and he told me to give them to the kids on their birthdays and tell them that the cards were from them. What a guy. Needless to say, both he and the other “magic” server both received generous tips.

Outside, we could barely contain ourselves and our good fortune. Our daughter not only wasn’t crying, but both she and my son couldn’t stop laughing.

My wife noted that the fireworks display was set to go off in front of Cinderella’s Castle within the next hour or so. We decided just to walk over and hang out until the show. The sun was low in the sky and we sat near the front of the castle with other families who were taking in the scenery and relaxing after a day of running around. Soon, the area was full of hundreds of others vying for a good view of the fireworks. Music was playing over those mysterious, hidden speakers which Disney hides in the shrubbery, and it was cool outside. My wife and I sat back on our hands feeling satisfied.

Look at them;” she said “they’re so happy.” There they were, our two kids dancing to the music without a care in the world. They laughed and sang, and rocked out to the tunes. I reached for the video camera and my wife took my arm.

No, no, just watch them.” She said. And, we did. Hand in hand the two of us laughed along with them as the sunlight faded and their shadows grew longer and splayed across the brick sidewalk. There was no need for video. That scene plays out in my head whenever I need to remember what it’s like to be happy. For my wife and I, that was our magical moment.

Happy Holidays from Mr. Grudge & family!

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December 12, 2007

Two Bakers Baking

The other morning at work I had a conversation with a woman whom I barely know. She replaced my friend in a position which occasionally crosses my path in my official duties in our building. When my friend left the job, she didn’t leave my life; in fact we’re still in touch often. Yet, when I see the "new woman", I sense the loss which is associated with missing my colleague.

This new woman was making coffee in the cafeteria when I stepped up behind her to wait for my turn to get my own cup of brew. She turned around and said hello, and I realized that I was whistling along with the Christmas carols playing on the overhead speakers.

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer?” she asked me with a smile. I must have turned red myself, but she saved me the embarrassment by quickly adding “I love Christmas too.” We talked for a few moments and she told me that her husband becomes miserable after Thanksgiving because his mother passed away around Christmas time a few years back. I listened to her and added that I can understand where he’s coming from because I lost some relatives around the winter holidays as well.

But, life does go on, right?” I said, trying not to sound too cliché.
That’s right; my mother in law wouldn’t want her son to be miserable, especially for our children’s sake.”

That was poignant, what she said. I kind of stared for a moment and thought about Kismet. We paid for our coffees, and I was careful not to offer to pay for hers as I'm inclined to do for co-workers of mine because she was the new kid filling in my friend’s position and she was still kind of on “probation” in my book. Maybe I’d have to phone up my pal and ask if it was alright to fraternize with the new gal, I thought.

However, it is moments like the one I just had with my new work associate, our brief chat about having a happy holiday, that highlighted another conversation I had with my twelve year old daughter only a few nights earlier. My mother died in August of 2006, and while we weathered the holiday season last year with great difficulty, I began to have doubts if I could keep my smile affixed to my face again this time around. My son has been crying a lot because he misses his grandma, and my daughter has been feeling a bit down herself.

The night when I spoke with my little girl we were opening Christmas cards we received in the mail. We talked about her grandmother and how my daughter doesn’t think its fair that she’s not with us anymore. There’s not much to say to a kid who’s crying about a lost loved one. I stroked her hair and kissed the top of her head.

Hey, why don’t we bake some of Grandma’s famous pumpkin bread together this weekend?” I asked her. She lifted her head and looked at me. “But you made some for Thanksgiving, Daddy.”

I know, but there’s no reason why we can’t have more. Grand pa would probably want some.

But, won’t that make him sad?” I paused, and thought about what she said. “Yeah, I think it might. Grandpa misses Grandma so much. But, he would be so proud of you if you baked him a loaf of her pumpkin bread. He would really love that.”

So, it was agreed. We have a date to bake pumpkin bread together for Christmas Eve. All of this came about while opening Christmas cards and thinking of Grandma. It didn’t occur to me that any of this had to do with the idea of being happy during the holidays until I talked for the first time to the woman who replaced my friend in her position where I work. And, I couldn’t make my daughter feel happy either until I explained that the best way to cheer up Grandpa was to give him something he loved and missed; and that was Grandma’s baking.

It would be difficult, but I would do my best to make this a memorable Christmas holiday for my wife and kids as it is only right to do so. My mother wouldn’t want me to be depressed because she wasn’t here anymore, and she would want her grandchildren to have fun time when Santa Claus came to town.

This is going to be the best Christmas ever” I told my daughter. She listened with the biggest smile on her face as she took an envelope from the stack of mail. I watched her read another Christmas card; and, it was from my friend I knew from work. I hope she likes pumpkin bread.

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December 10, 2007

Perps, Cuffs, and Doughnuts Too

Every profession has one, and that is its own language. Those in the medical, legal and education professions all speak with the jargon of their career field. My former line of work is no different. Cops have a lingo all their own, comprised of legalese, shorthand, and slang. You've heard police say the word "perp" on detective shows for years. Many of you know what a perp is. You do, don’t you? A perp is a perpetrator. That’s slang for suspect. It's easier to say than perpetrator. Another exmple is in New York City, if a cop needs to call on the radio for an ambulance, he asks the dispatcher for a bus. That’s because it’s shorter than calling for an ambulance when time is critical.

Also, there are all of those radio codes cops rattle off, as well as sections of the law and the Patrol Guide which are quoted during the course of a busy tour of duty. Now that I am a writer, I wish to tell many of the stories I have from my experiences “on the job” but I don’t want to bludgeon the reader over the head with cop-speak. It’s confusing and requires a glossary at the end of the story. One other reason I want to take it easy with the police terminology is that it’s boring. Nothing makes a reader want to skim past pages of dialogue and description faster than dousing them with industry-specific or profession-oriented speech. Only the true police buff will sift through a word list and define various phrases and terms used in a police story. My goal is to write for a wide audience and not insult the reader’s intelligence by making the text too simple, and to maintain an aura of realism.

So, when striking a balance with readers and authenticity, I tend to allow the narrator describe details in lay terms rather than have the characters do it talking like "hair bags" (hardened, veteran police officers). It is less confusing to say “The officers climbed into their cruiser to begin their tour of duty", rather than have cop #1 say to cop#2 “You sign out an RMP and I’ll be the recorder.” I can tell already that you’re falling asleep.

In real life scenarios, police in New York City are trained that if they don’t know a radio code, you simply say what you need. If you’re trying to break up a small riot and cannot decide if you want to call a 10-13 or ask for a 10-85 forthwith, just tell Central where you are and that you need backup. Everyone in the whole division will know right away that you’re getting your head handed to you and they’ll fly there “lights and sirens” or even with “hats and bats.” This makes my job as a writer easier when creating scenes where my police characters use the radio because I can realistically have them talk like civilians to the central dispatcher and toss in generic “10” codes which anyone knows, such as “10-4.”

Where my job gets dicey is when my characters are on patrol or hanging around with other cops. So far I’ve gotten around this by limiting my patrol time with my characters and having the narrating “voice” translate the details of a jargon laden conversation. In addition, I’m given to mixing civilians into social settings with the off duty police officers in various scenes to suppress the natural urge of the cops to settle into unfiltered cop-talk. My first foray into blogging about my police experiences seemed to go well judging by the comments I received from the post. I tried to balance what happened with my civilian voice and explain any of the law enforcement tactics and verbiage. The story has been posted for several days now and reactions have been positive. My three novel length police stories, though read by only a small number of select readers, have also been given upbeat reviews. Yet, I feel like it is a lot of work to get the mix of pure police-speak and civilian perspective right.

A true writer, in my opinion, never has an easy job. If it is effortless for me to publish even a blog post, then maybe I'm not doing enough to please my readers. I accept the assignment of relating my police experiences in either fictionalized, novel length works, or blog postings in this space. In fact, while putting together this piece, I was reminded of an incident while working in Manhattan North in the sixth radio division when a/t/p/o, c/v stated that she was struck by unk perp about the head and neck w/blunt inst. Perp fled unk dir. Canvass neg, 32 PCT SQD not. EMS 10/84 C/V RMA. Now that was scary.

Awards: Friendship & Useful Blogger

My friend J.D., the author of The Uneasy Supplicant has presented me with the two great awards: The Colors of Friendship and The Totally Useful Blogger. In the blogging world, there aren't too many folks who can claim to be friends; but, J.D. has been a supporter of Mr. Grudge almost since its inception as a writer's blog a few months ago, and he can claim to be a friend of this blog. I can ask J.D. a question and he'll get right back to me with a response. My door is open to him as well. J.D. knows that writers, bloggers, and artists who post on the internet form a neighborhood, and with that there should be present a standard of honesty and integrity. That is why other's have seen fit to award him these very honors which he generously passed on to me. Thank you, J.D., a blogging friend.

December 6, 2007

Confessions of a Blood-Stained Twit

Notice to readers: names of the individuals in this story have been changed to protect the innocent, and the stupid.

In early 1990 I was a young rookie cop walking a beat in New York City. I was part of a field training unit sent out to patrol a housing development in upper Manhattan. It was a four-to-twelve shift on a January evening and I was deployed with a group of about twenty other rookies and a training sergeant to cover an area in Harlem. While patrolling alone, I rounded the corner at 125th Street and Amsterdam Avenue and I was confronted by an extremely tall man, well over six feet in height. He was wearing a long white jacket with a white, brimless cap, and he was covered with deep, red blotches of blood. My initial suspicions were immediately quelled when I realized he was a worker from the nearby meat packing plant. The man, whom I’ll refer to as Ned because I like that name for this story, was talking on a payphone and hung up when he saw me approaching.

“That was fast, I just called you, Officer.” He said.
“You just called me? I didn’t get any calls.” I checked the volume knob on my bulky, police-issue, handheld radio to see if I inadvertently left it off.
“I just called nine-one-one.” He told me. It was at the moment that the central dispatcher alerted my unit to this individual at our location. I answered and informed the dispatcher that I was on the scene. My sergeant, a street smart young woman, Sgt Wertz (I like that name for her) responded also that she was on the way to that location to meet me and she ordered all other training units to respond as well. It was a slow tour, and I knew that she wanted to instruct us young cops on how to write a proper field report, and nothing more.

Confident that I could handle this situation myself, I opened my memo book and took the cap off a ball point pen and started to interview my “complainant.”

“Why did you call the police?” was the obvious question.” Ned smiled and placed his hands on his blotchy, maroon and white butcher’s coat.

“Okay Officer, it’s like this. You see, I’m a bookie. Now, I know that’s against the law, but I had an argument with a woman who owes me money, and it might have gotten a bit out of control, and I might have pushed her a little, and I just wanted to call you guys and set the whole thing straight before she did.”

I put the memo book back into my back pocket and took another look at the blood stains on his uniform. Precisely at the moment when he completed his pitch to me about telling his side to the story which hadn’t been reported yet by the other person involved, Sgt. Wertz and a small platoon of cops turned the corner where I came from and appeared behind me. I’ll never forget Ned’s eyes widening and saying “Whoa” out loud.

Sgt. Wertz took command. After a few moments of questioning, Ned told a tale of asking a woman he knew for the sum of forty dollars which she allegedly owed him for betting on a ball game. Ned was enlightened enough to understand that cops tend to make sort of a frowny face when it comes to illegal gambling; but, as an otherwise law abiding citizen, he enlisted the aid of the police to assist with this somewhat thorny issue involving him and one of his betting clients.

“Where is this woman now?” Sgt. Wertz asked. Ned took a few steps westward and pointed to one of the corner buildings on the opposite side of the development. She allowed Ned to lead the way as we all escorted this young entrepreneur who suddenly became quiet. We learned what floor the woman lived on and what apartment she was in and Sgt. Wertz asked me and two other cops in my squad to accompany her to the apartment. She ordered the rest of the squad to wait in the lobby, all sixteen of them, and keep and eye on Ned.

The woman’s apartment was on the sixth floor at the end of the hallway. We knocked, and knocked again, and waited. As we were about to leave, someone’s eye appeared in the peephole. The door opened abruptly. There was a woman living there as Ned informed us, and she looked to be about one hundred years old if she was a day.

“How did you know that I needed you?” she asked. Sgt. Wertz looked at me. I shrugged.

“Do you need the police for any reason?” Sgt. Wertz asked. Cops always ask questions we know the answer to. It’s a method to catch people in a lie, though in this case Wertz was asking out of habit.

“Why yes, Officer. I don’t have a phone, and I couldn’t call.”

“Do you know a tall man wearing a white jacket and a hat?”

“Yes, yes. You have him? He’s the one. He did it to us.” Then the old woman turned around and shouted, as only an extremely elderly person can “Henry! It’s the police!” Henry turned out to be her husband who was older than his wife. No kidding, the woman was ninety three and the husband was ninety four. They had a very different story to tell than Ned did.

For about three or four days, Ned, who worked in the meat packing plant nearby as I deduced from his attire, confronted the woman and her husband while he took his lunch break and they were sitting in the bench in front of their apartment building. Each day, he’d ask them for money, and they’d tell him to get lost. Only, Ned didn’t get lost; and on that day, he followed them into the lobby of their building as they tried to escape his persistent and increasingly menacing presence.

The woman and her husband shuffled onto the elevator together and watched as the door closed on Ned’s face. That didn’t stop clever Ned as he ran up the stairs and met them as they came off the elevator. She screamed and fought as Ned tried to rip her pocketbook off her shoulder. Her husband pushed and shoved at him too and Ned knocked her over and dragged her down the hallway by the pocketbook strap. When he was able to yank the pocketbook free, the husband started beating Ned about the head and shoulders with his cane. Ned wisely dropped the bag and ran fled, unable to subdue a couple in their nineties. The first thing he did was to locate a payphone and call the police to get his side of the story in first before they did. That’s where we came in.

Sgt. Wertz heard enough and contacted the other officers guarding Ned in the lobby. “Put him in handcuffs” was all she said. The cop who answered said “10-4” but left the radio keyed long enough for us to overhear Ned in the background saying “Hey wait, I called the police, I called the police.”

I rode in the back seat of the patrol car with Ned, as he writhed in discomfort with his hands cuffed behind his back. The cop driving the RMP (that’s NYPD cop terminology for a police car: Radio Motor Patrol) ignored Ned as he ranted and complained to me, the senior officer behind the wheel, and to anyone who drove past us oblivious to his plight.

“You can’t lock me up, I’m the one who called the police.” He kept repeating.

“That’s right, you called the police, and we thank you.” I said.

“No Officer, I called you guys, so you can’t lock me up.”

“What? No way, you don’t think…” The other officer and I laughed out loud. It was clear that Ned truly believed that if a person called the police first, he was immune from being arrested no matter what he was accused of. Though Ned was the first person I encountered in my police career who acted under this misapprehension, I met many more folks like him during the course of my career who believed that they would be absolved of their crimes if they called nine-one-one before the other guy did.

“Hey hey, Ned, knock it off, you’re way too loud.” The other officer said. He stopped the car and chirped the siren at a garbage truck which was blocking the side street we were on.

“No, no. I’m not supposed to get arrested, this is wrong.” He griped. I couldn’t believe it. I never met anyone so dim-witted.

“What’s wrong is that you robbed somebody and called the police on yourself.” he turned around and looked Ned in the eye. “You have the right to remain silent…use it.”

Ned was a dumb guy, but he knew useful legal advice when he heard it. Not a word came out of his mouth and he drove with us the rest of the way to the precinct with his chin in his chest. Poor Ned, maybe he would have been a better bookie than a robber; but I’m willing to bet he never called the police again.


December 4, 2007

A Semi-Gloss Kind of Love

When I met my wife, Nina, a little over twenty years ago, we were dating exclusively. Ever the doting boyfriend, I bought her gifts, flowers, and took her out on expensive dates, even though I still lived at home with my parents at the age of twenty three. I had moved out of state for a while and lived with some friends until circumstances were such that I had to move home again to New York. My mom and dad were happy to take me back in not only because they were wonderful parents who would do anything for their child, but because I became their house boy. Still, Nina looked past all of that and dated me anyway. I'm a lucky guy to still have her, especially after a certain incident which occurred after we’d been dating for about a month when she saw me in my underwear. I should also mention that I was in my parent’s backyard at the time.

On the date in question, it was summertime and I returned home from work to my parent’s house. That particular evening I was supposed to take my Nina out to an expensive restaurant. My dad confronted me as I was about to climb the stairs to my old room with Led Zeppelin posters still hanging on the walls from high school, and told me I wasn’t going anywhere until I painted the outside windows. He meant the ones on the second story on the rear of the house. One didn’t argue with my six-foot tall, muscular, father with the deep voice which scared the hell out of all of my childhood friends. I think I said something like “But, dad, I’m going on a date.” And he replied with something along the lines of “You’ll have a date with the dentist if you don’t get on that ladder right now.” Maybe those weren’t the exact words, but I didn’t squabble over it because I didn’t think Nina would date a homeless guy.

Outside I sized up the daunting task of hoisting my dad’s rickety, aluminum, extension ladder up against the rear of the house. There’s a wooden deck under the window and the ladder had to stand on top of it. After moving an outdoor table and chairs, I grabbed the paint can, brush, and a couple of rags and began to scale, rather cautiously, this flimsy stepladder which I’d propped up against the eaves of our Cape Cod-style home with a rear-facing dormer.

It is at this point I must state that I actually like painting. I just don’t like painting in a spot where I would be safer doing the job while leaning out of a blimp. In that location, I would paint about a foot of space, climb back down the ladder, move the ladder, worm my way back up to the top, careful not to shake the aluminum frame too much, and paint another few inches of window frame. The sun was still bright in the sky at that hour. It was about six o’clock in the evening, Nina was due to arrive at about seven o’clock, and I was hoping to finish at least one window, change out of my cut-off jeans shorts and white tee shirt, shower, and be ready for my hot babe of a girlfriend to pick me up because I didn’t own a car. As I write this, I am still wondering why she stuck it out with me.

Towards the end of the job, I was becoming frustrated. The paint can dripped all over the new deck below which meant I had to get down there quickly and clean up the spots before they dried or my father would add my blood stains on the deck in some sort of morbid, Jackson Pollack, outdoor scene. As I held the open paint can in one hand, the paint brush in two fingers of the other, I began the decent from the ladder to the deck about ten or twelve feet below me. That’s when the ladder slipped. It stopped, caught at the edge of the extended eaves, the shingles of the roof barely holding onto the tiny safety hooks at the top of the ladder frame. I grasped onto the sides of the ladder for my life completely covered in paint.

When the paint can hit the deck, all of the paint inside erupted back up at me in a Warner Brothers cartoon style and splattered me from toe to forehead. My glasses became opaque. Paint found its way up the legs of my shorts and into my Fruit of the Looms. My tee shirt suctioned itself to my torso, cold and wet with Benjamin Moore’s Antique Semi-Gloss White. When I breathed, the ladder slipped a millimeter or two more. If it fell, I would have at least broken my arms and legs. My father would have finished the job and crushed the rest of my skeleton.

After what seemed like a day, but was more like five minutes, I moved in slow motion to the bottom step of the ladder, with paint dripping into my eyes and down my entire body. When I eventually reached the bottom, I picked up the ladder and threw it across the yard with all of my strength. My parents, who were always aware when I had the TV on at a whisper at three o’clock in the morning in my room, somehow were oblivious to my cursing and swearing as I damned the ladder and the paint can to an eternity in Hell.

My shorts and tee shirt were dripping all over and I had to strip them off and then run to the side of the house in my underwear and retrieve the garden hose. I gave the deck a good dousing and the paint came off better than I thought it would. When I was satisfied that no permanent stains were going to result from my near-death experience, I aimed the nozzle at my body and showered myself in high pressure, very cold water. That’s the moment Nina showed up.

What the…” She walked into the backyard attracted by my yelling and cursing at the ladder, only to witness her boyfriend taking a bath with a garden hose to clean off several coats of all-weather paint. If the neighbors heard me hollering and cursing, they covered their ears when she laughed her head off. To this day, I’m still explaining this one; not to Nina, but to my father.

“Next time, anchor the feet with rubber.” He said. Dad wasn’t angry, but it wouldn’t have been in his character to not at least give me instructions on how to avoid killing myself the next time out. He waited until he was in the next room to laugh at me. I did take a lesson from all of this, though. I proposed to Nina so at least I can say “hey, you married me” if she decided to tell anyone the story later on in life, and as soon as I bought my own home, I invested in vinyl siding.

December 2, 2007

Red & White and Christmas Lights

Dear Readers,
I wrestled with whether or not I should post this on my blog. Briefly, at around 1:30 a.m. on December 2, 2007, I published this piece with a few more details than what is present now, and I received a very supportive and very insightful comment from an excellent blogger and new reader to Mr. Grudge. My reluctance to share this story overpowered me and I removed the post and graciously contacted the author of the comment and explained the removal. After further contemplation, I edited out identifying details and I decided to post this story again because I want to make a statement regarding the need for all of us to cherish what we have and to not take our lives or our families for granted. Thank you. -Mr. Grudge

December 2, 2007, 12:57 a.m.: It is late and I am writing this piece because I cannot sleep. I’m sitting across from our Christmas tree and the colorful lights are reflecting off the screen of my laptop, as well as blinking lights from outside our window. In order to try to fall asleep, I thought I would write about my day.

December 1, 2007, 10:30a.m.:
When my father heard me coming in is door of his home this morning with my children, he greeted us with the same giant hug he always did even when my mother was alive. Our plan was to help my father move some furniture and then eat lunch together while unbeknownst to the kiddies, my wife sneaked off to the store to buy the final, “big” present that Santa Claus will be bringing them this year.

My wife and I had a somewhat delicately timed plan to get the thing into our house. After leaving my Dad’s place, I was to take my daughter home first and then drop my son of at his friend’s house for a play date, and my wife was going to bring our daughter for her violin lesson, and I was to then go to the store alone and pick up present, and then high-tail it back to our house to hide the box in our garage. Then, I was to go back and retrieve our son, and we were all going to meet back home and then go out for dinner. Sounds like a plan, right?

At around 2:00 p.m., we said our good byes to my dad and my wife called on my cell phone to confirm, as only a wife would, that I understood everything I had to do, and that I had the receipt, and I wouldn’t be dopey enough to blurt out that I was going to pick up their gift which is supposed to be from Santa Claus to our kids.

I ended the call with her and decided to call her back and tell her that I would drop our son off at his friend’s house first and then take our daughter home so I wouldn’t have to crisscross the neighborhood and I could do everything in one shot. As my wife listened, she stopped me and said “Let me hang up, there’s something going on outside. I’ll call you right back.”

Moments later, my cell phone rang. She told me that it looked like there was some sort of accident in front of our neighbor’s home a few doors down from us. This particular family has children the same age as ours and our eight year old son is friends with their son. The same thought went through both of our minds as we feared that the boy may have been hit by a car. I asked a lot of questions, forgetting who my audience was in the back seat, and my son started to worry aloud. “Is that my friend, daddy? Is Jared alright?” I assured him that Jared wasn’t hurt, although I wasn’t actually sure, and my daughter chimed in with her own questions. I held my hand up to my daughter to quiet her down so I could hear my wife. Ordinarily, she’s pretty calm under pressure, but she sounded anxious.

“Hold on, I can’t hear you,” she said “there’s a helicopter, its right over the house. I have to go. I’ll call you right back."
It’s about thirty minutes to my father’s house from ours. The ride back is the same, of course; but after this series of cell phone calls, it was turning into a ten minute drive and I was cutting people off to get home. All sorts of images were popping into my head about someone’s poor child laying in the street and his or her parents in anguish. I tuned the radio to my kid’s favorite station and pretended everything as just fine.

About five minutes later, my cell phone rang again. I could tell that my wife was on her cell phone and not the cordless one in our kitchen. The sirens in the background were a dead giveaway that she was outside.

“Try not to react,” she said in the same serious tone one uses to deliver bad news. “Some one was killed...murdered...across the street.”

The details were sketchy, but about eight houses down the block, a person, (I am not going to reveal names or my relationship to this family, and I am deliberately keeping out certain details) was dead, murdered apparently by an intruder. I was even queasier than when I believed one of the neighbor’s kid’s was hit by a car.

“Don’t come up our block,” she said “The whole street is blocked off. They’re still looking for whoever did it.”

In record time, I made it home, even after having to take a lengthier route though the crowded mall. In a bizarre scene in our quiet town, police were everywhere, swarming our yards, stringing up crime scene tape within just a few feet from our home, and several officers had police dogs which were sniffing the immediate area around the residence where the murder took place. All of my years of police experience meant nothing. This is my block, and they were folks I knew. Nothing can harden me to the fear of a killer stalking around my house evading the police.

December 2, 2007 1:31 a.m. update:
Around eight o’clock at night I called my father and told him what happened and he was shocked and frightened for us. I told him not to worry because there were an army of cops on the street and it was unlikely that anything would happen to us. My father said he’d pray for the victim; but, what surprised me was that he said he would even pray for the killer as he somehow has this evil within him, and that it is only right to help him with our faith. I am getting ready to turn off the Christmas tree lights now; but the red and white lights of the police car at the end of my driveway will flash all night outside.

Author's note: I am not in the habit of writing journal style posts like this of my every day life. Writing, as I've discussed often in this space offers a sense of closure, or therapy if you will, at times when one is in grief or turmoil. I did my best to leave out the pertinent details such as names and the particulars of the crime. There will be no further updates to this story. Thank you all for reading.

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