We’re closing in on the end. Only a few days left for the East of the Sun Book Tour fundraiser.
We’re closing in on the end. Only a few days left for the East of the Sun Book Tour fundraiser.
Only five days left to toss some cash to the ’17 book tour effort……
Ed Gorman died.
While I wasn’t surprised, I was shaken.
He had been fighting cancer for years and I’m guessing he was just tired.
He was a good man, simply said. All the superlatives fit him and all are well deserved, but in the end, his life and work and all the rest come down to that; he was a good man.
In the days after my heart attack, February 18, 2001, I received all kinds of phone calls and emails and letters and whatnot wishing me a speedy recovery and best of all possible worlds. It was nice to open a batch of those every day and realize my world was a bit larger than I had consciously thought about.
(Though it was odd to be asked by an editor wearing San Jose Sharks jersey if my heart attack was a publicity stunt…doubly so considering I had nothing out at the time that would have benefited from such a well thought out and not at all expensive…$38,000 for twenty-four hours in cardiac ICU…stunt.)
In the course of getting all these letters and cards and all the rest, I got a box (and yeah, for a few seconds, I thought I was in Jack Ketchum’s 1994 story, ‘The Box.’). I remember sitting on the west-facing porch in Denver and just staring at the box for a few minutes.
It had Ed Gorman’s address and his handwriting.
During the year previous, Ed and I had gotten to be decent friends…by which I mean we talked on the phone often and via email constantly. I never actually met the man face to face. He didn’t much like leaving his home.
So getting a package from this man I was just getting to know both freaked me out and made me feel like a kid at Christmastime.
Inside? Obviously…books. Like every book he had published going back to the 17th century or something. Westerns, crime, mystery, horror, a virtual guided tour of his novel output over the previous 20 years.
I sat there on that porch for the next six weeks, slowly mending back to health, and read every word. Yeah, the man was an amazing writer, when he was at his best he was straight up better than damn near anyone else writing. His plots were well paced and his characterizations deft and incisive, and it was an incredible experience reading that much of one writer in that short of a time (the literary version of binge watching Narcos or something on Netflix).
But what made that box, and those books, even better than the delicious words on the page was the fact that this man, who knew me only from emails and phone calls and my own writing, cared enough to package up a library and send it.
He was a good man.
From his blog, August 22, 2008:
“Last week I started rereading 2000 Miles To Open Road by Trey R. Barker. We had in common…the fact that we were both going through the early stages of battling cancer. Trey’s experience was brutal. But the cancer diary he kept is one of the most eloquent and articulate pieces of real life I’ve ever read. Happily he’s doing well now.”
I offer that not as some pat on my own back but to illustrate that even as he was trying to help a young writer by promoting my work on his blog, he was conscious of the things that make us all human. We had exchanged emails back and forth about our battles with cancer and he laughed at some part of ‘The Cancer Chronicles,’ because he lived through the same indignities.
Elizabeth Engstrom, another of my favorite writers, had also had some battles. Where Ed started with thyroid cancer in 2001, he soon moved into multiple myeloma. Liz and I shared melanoma, and we spent many an hour emailing back and forth about the nightmare.
I found myself thinking about that box of books yesterday when I heard the news about Ed. The wonderful simplicity of a box of books touched my soul as deeply as a black-hearted bastard like me can be touched. I remember sitting there for what felt like a lifetime just slowly reading each word on the front cover, then moving to the back cover, then soaking in the artwork, then the reviews and blurbs in the first few pages, then moving on to the next book. It was probably two hours before I even settled in and cracked the spine on one.
I still have most of those books, though some have become worn from constant rereading. And quite a few of them have long underlined passages and highlighted sections, as would any regular text book from which someone wanted to learn.
I have learned much from Ed Gorman and suspect that learning is not yet finished.
Thank you, Ed, for everything. Godspeed and just think about all the time you have now to read now….
Hellooooo Indianapolis! Time for the Drum Corps International Championship Finals!
Last time I caught the finals was Dallas, ’91, and so Saturday night I was so excited I almost peed on myself…and on my traveling companion!
Understand this…I have been all about marching percussion since I was knee high to a drumstick. When I was in the 8th grade, my band director, Mr. Bruce Collins, gave me the Spirit Award at the spring concert and said something like, “If I asked Trey to strap on a drum and march to Odessa, he would.”
I marched in ’82 with the Houston Nighthawks their first year. We were terrible but earnest. It was a great summer and I had a blast. In the years after, I went to about forty-hundred shows all over the country, from small shows in Dallas to huge ones in Denver, and what I’ve always loved most about drum and bugle corps are the balls. Music with balls, performers with balls. Even at it’s most delicate, drum corps are powerful groups that humble you with their sheer explosive force.
Lots has changed since I marched in 1982 and I don’t dig all of it, but even when a show doesn’t thrill me, even when a rule change makes me nutty, I count myself as a supporter. And no matter the show or music or design, the performers (no older than 21) have my total admiration and awe.
So let’s get to the getting. In the Finals, the corps hit the field in reverse order of scoring from the semi-finals; lowest scoring performing first and highest scoring performing last. These are my notes, moderately edited, from Saturday night.
1) Boston Crusaders. Visually disjointed. Huge stylized windmills a distraction. Music and visual don’t fit each other. What’s the story they’re trying to tell? Musicians shouldn’t be dancers.
2) The Academy. That’s how to match visual and music. Very cool Victorian/Gothic romance and zombie love affair. Incredibly good. Music good, dancing musicians (which I hate) well integrated. Mallet percussion sprouting skeleton masks and costumes while playing small xylophones on their rib cages hilariously clever. Stephen King meets DCI. Rock it, baby.
[Later, after seeing some love stories presented by other corps that just reeked of sweetness, I wondered if maybe, just maybe, The Academy was telling a fun zombie love story while at the same time mocking the syrupy love stories of the other drum corps.]
3) Crossmen. Ugh. Too much dancing by musicians, particularly horns. Going for low brass score, maybe? Horns spend as much time dancing as playing. Long strings of odd music with no horn or percussion held together by the percussion and electric piano in the pit. What’s the story? Visual disjointed from music.
4) Blue Stars. Another show I can’t figure out. Am I getting too stupid for DCI? Dancing horn players and props that are just there. Maybe quite obvious in the head of the show designer, but lost on me. A giant bed that lots of people roll across and stand on but doesn’t seem to have any real focus. A woman in a boxy skirt bedazzled with rope light ran around, twirling either a lamp or an umbrella (hard to tell which as they had both) and sort of led the lovers chaotically all over the field. All the musicians, at one point or another, were laying down. Music hard to follow.
[Later I checked their website and the show is called ‘Le Reve,’ French for the dream. Now it begins to make a little sense, I guess, but I don’t think someone should have to check a website and get notes to be able to understand what’s going on on the field.]
Thus far…all the shows except The Academy…sound and look exactly the same and are equally murky in terms of storytelling. The designers either need to drink way more, or way less, whiskey.
5) Phantom Regiment. Such an incredible horn line, so beautifully balanced and perfectly in tune. Why sacrifice that at the altar of dancing horn players? Musicians shouldn’t put their horns or drums down to dance. First half of their show just like others, second half damned good…regular Phantom…music not dancing.
6) Blue Knights. More random props? Don’t add to the show. Music with no melody. Musicians putting their instruments down and dancing. Mirrors on field reflect stadium lights into eyes of audience. Yeah, good call that one.
Lady behind me, former performer, says most of the show designers roughly the same age. Not sure I believe that, but so far most of the shows feel and look roughly the same…like there’s only one designer in all of DCI-dom.
Can’t hear the recorded voice-overs hardly at all (yeah, yeah, I know…voice-overs with bits of story narrative in a drum and bugle corps…welcome to one of the rule changes I hate).
7) The Cadets. Uh…mannequins? A 12-ft tall birthday cake-shaped stone pedestal thing? A violin? In a drum and bugle corps? But…finally…music with balls and melody. Power and adrenaline. Aggressive percussion. More marching than dancing. Strange story line. Are those rock people? Coming to life? Wait…they’re back to stone now. Uh…come to life long enough to change poses and nothing else? Not sure what that particular bit of odd theatricality is about but the horns horned and the percussion banged and that rox my balls.
8) The Cavaliers. Another random string of starting positions for the performers. They’re dribbled all over the field like a damned Jackson Pollock painting. No one carrying instruments or even their hats. Hate that. Gimme a more traditional opening. Big props that help tell the story…political words…revolution…propaganda. Hell yeah on this show! Cavs still one of the big dogs. Get off the porch and howl, boys! That’s how to match visual and music, storyline and music. Best show of night so far. Black and white uniforms when it was political propaganda, color later when the propaganda became endless ads…the ultimate in propaganda. Brilliant show! Music with BIG balls (thanks, Bon).
9) Santa Clara Vanguard. Again, everybody laying down sans instruments. It’s like freakin’ Jonestown up in here, corps(es) everywhere. Get it? Corps(es). That’s funny stuff. Yeah, yeah, stole it straight from The Academy show. An opening I don’t care for…soft and squishy…SCV always fabulous. Combined visual with music. Damned good. Story line not at all murky or hidden. Take a lesson, youngsters, that’s how you do it. If you can’t howl, don’t even get off the porch. SCV music with balls and punch.
10) Carolina Crown. OMFG. Incredibly good. Musicians dancing (grrr) but played balls out! Show doesn’t look like the others. Great story line, mixed music and visual perfectly. Troopers territory…American west. Great visual depiction of battle and hardship of moving west. Giant stage coach prop, huge, but used as platform for both color guard and story line. Fabulous show!
11) The Blue Devils. Damn, these ain’t your daddy’s Blue Devils. Odd and disjointed. 12 huge box trusses on wheels that took two or three people to move. Moved them around, spun them around to see musicians sitting on a bench. Covered in antique-looking pieces of world maps. Doing nothing but sitting on field. Think story is coming to America…seek a better life? Not really sure. A man’s face on the back of color guard costumes (not even really uniforms anymore) but can’t tell who it is. Too much dancing. Put some air through the damned horn and some blood on the drumheads!
[Later…checked their website and the show was a retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Okay, that seems to fit, but again, I don’t like having to go elsewhere to figure out what the show is. Even the video at the website explaining the story was dance-oriented. Dancers dancing along a wall and on the handrails. Ugh. I’m guessing the face on the costumes was Shakespeare…hard to tell from where I was sitting.]
Why are so many damn corps not playing a single note by horns or percussion until two minutes into the show? I don’t want to hear synthesized ethereal sound patches that are apropos of exactly nothing.
12) Bluecoats. This is the worst show I have ever seen since I started watching in 1982. Music feels completely random and it has squat to do with the visual. Wait…what’s the visual? Oh, right, random pink skater half-pipes. Musicians sliding down them…again and again and again. Hanging off them again…and again…and again. Uniforms white jeans and t-shirts and yellow jeans and t-shirts. Classy bit, that. Memories of the Velvet Knights, eh, boys? Musicianship passable…at least when they played. Too much damned musician dancing again. 24 speakers on field? Wassa matta? Can’t hear the soloists? ‘Cause they spend their time learning to dance rather than woodshedding their playing. Maybe I’m an idiot but I simply do not understand what they’re trying to do.
Cut to Sunday night, thinking about the Finals and the notes I made during the Finals.
I realize I’m old school DCI from way back, and I know changes aren’t permanent, but change is (nods to the Canada Boys all around) and that’s all fine, I’m just not sure I’m up for some of these particular changes.
A violin on the field, Cadets? Uncool. Doubly so since she played about four notes and then was one of your frozen statues for 95% of the show.
I don’t understand putting a microphone in front of everything. I want to hear what the musician can do; can they blow? Can they blow in tune? With carriage and tone? If they can’t and they need a mic, maybe they belong in a concert hall, not on a field. I can’t even imagine the Spirit of Atlanta or Santa Clara hornlines from the 80s or the Cavs in the early 2000s needing a mic for their soloists.
And I just don’t understand all the damned dancing. It started in the late 80s with color guards that wanted to do something other than sweep the sky…sweep the ground (flags) and throw throw throw (rifles), and that was all fine, but now everyone is dancing and the marching fundamentals have gone to shit.
Lines were a disaster, diagonals were horrific…though I believe I began to understand why the show designers had performers do their own thing and run around the field…easier to hide bad marching.
In those cases, and there were corps that had great marching, it felt like nothing more than chaos theory hoping for a good visual score.
Lastly, the emoting. Music is emotion. Music is heartfelt and the absolute essence of emotion and spirit and human soul. So don’t stage everything! I love to see musicians moved by the music, but if everyone in a section is emoting the exact same way at the exact same moment, it’s not real. It’s staged in hopes of a better visual score.
The Bluecoates soloist, who did a decent job, did not suddenly take that opportunity to wink into the camera and swagger away, overcome by how well he’d played. Nor was he the only performer who played to the cameras. It just comes off as phony as fake tits.
Now, having written all that and sounding like that old guy down the block who screams all day: “Get off my lawn, fuckers!” I absolutely love drum corps, even the crap I hate and think should be in the dustbin of bad ideas (New Coke, anyone?). I will always attend, I will always donate money, and I will always admire every performer on the field for their incredible ability and hard work and dedication (the accoutrements have changed, but those attributes are exactly the same as when I marched), but I will continue to hold DCI’s feet to the fire when they fuck it up, or when a corps as a whole fucks it up, or when a designer takes the easy and trendy way out.
Come on…seriously…a violin?
I noticed the fear first.
And his hand sliding up his thigh.
For a split second, it scared me. For a split second, I was in Cop-Mode, needing to protect myself.
Welcome to Atchison, Kansas.
A convenience store where my traveling companion and I stopped. The kind of place that has become comfortable ritual on my road trips and book tours: gas, piss, munchie, repeat…gas, piss, munchie, repeat.
She went to the bathroom and I pumped gas before heading in. The single bathroom, in this little convenience store deep in the hometown of Amelia Earhart, was in the back, the place usually reserved for Employees Only.
But before you went through that door and into an open area with storage and the bathroom, you passed the soda machines. They were set perpendicular to the back wall, forming a T with the soda machines near the bottom and the bathroom at the far left side of the top.
So I go back there, turned left, saw that the single bathroom was occupado, looked right and saw only storage, and turned back toward the soda machines to wait, or stroll about and find the requisite munchie.
And suddenly there he was. Belly, gimme cap, and giant cooler that he’d just filled from the ice machine…
…and metal phallus on his hip.
Staring at me, his face anxious and sweaty, his left hand – on his cooler – shaking.
“Can I help you?”
Before an answer even came to me, I saw his right hand, sliding up his thigh to his holstered .380.
I was stunned. I’ve been a cop for a lotta years and I’ve never had anyone pull a gun on me. I’ve never had anyone even legitimately threaten me with a gun (as opposed to drunkenly saying they were going to shoot me…fuck, that happens constantly…whatevs).
This was the first time in my life that had happened and I grew up in Texas! Guns galore. Guns required. Guns issued at birth!
His eyes were huge, depthless, black holes of terror. His lips were pinched tight, barely open enough to get the question out. Sweat danced on his forehead as though he’d just run a marathon.
He was scared to death, certain I was less than a breath from causing chaos right in front of him.
What the hell kind of world view did this guy have? What kind of paranoia raged within him and told him that a broken down, older, bald, white guy who just needed to piss was going to unleash a Revelatory hell?
I knew his fear, I’ve been there. When the guy who’d smoked up a pile of PCP attacked me and we fought for 12 1/2 minutes over my gun, I felt that fear. When I faced off with seven drunk bikers in a local bar and my back up was more than 20 miles away, I felt that fear.
But that was all acute fear, borne specifically of those extreme moments.
This guy’s fear felt chronic, something he lived with everyday, something that forced him to stalk the streets of his 10,000-person town strapped, certain he would come face to face with his greatest fear, whatever that fear happened to be at that moment.
That day, in that convenience store, it was me, and he was dead certain I was there to kill him.
So he was going to handle the problem first.
Sitting here, on a Saturday morning, writing about all this, something else comes to mind. I’ve been threatened by bangers, too. White boys who thought they were Aryan Brotherhood, Hispanic boys who believed they were tough enough for MS13, black boys who had C-R-I-P tattooed on their knuckles.
Physically, those threats were always loud-mouthed yelling, blazing eyes, squared up bodies, moving toward me, fists up ready to war.
This guy was the exact opposite. Dead silent other than the single question, shoulders slumped, eyes meek, shrinking away from me, turning away rather than squaring up.
But there was as bi-polarity to him, as well. He was terrified but he was also wearing a metal penis-extender that gave him a balls-out, rock-hard courage. He had already decided he was going to unsheath that monster and let me see it, let me feel it and taste it.
He had decided, scared or not, that he would cower no more. A lifetime of being scared was over. Call him Bernie Goetz writ modern, standing next to a soda machine rather than on a New York subway. He would take care of the problem before it happened, rather than waiting until after there actually was a problem.
Goetz was a reactionary pussy. This guy was a pro-active handler.
There was no threat in that store, not from me or my traveling companion. There was exactly nothing about the situation that should have caused such soul-shattering fear.
Instead of getting mouthy, which is my usual fall-back, I raised my hands, palms out, and said, “Just gotta piss.”
His face flamed red and he immediately turned back to the soda machine, trying to cram more ice into his cooler. I left quickly and waited for my companion outside.
His embarrassment came from, I assume, the fact that he’d suddenly realized he was being a scared little fucktard, seeing death and destruction everywhere…including near a soda machine.
But here’s the thing. There was a moment when I wanted to reach for my weapon, too. I wanted to grab my OC spray or my baton, or even my gun, and make sure I was protected.
Are he and I so different? Each of us wanted to go for a gun when we got scared.
I sigh as I sit here, still angry that this scared-to-death guy scared me badly enough that I wanted to become him. Not forever, just long enough to make sure I was the one who left the store on my own two feet.
Had I been armed, I have no idea what would have happened. Thinking about it keeps me awake at night, sweating cold bullets.
Fuck that guy and what he’s put in my head.
So, it’s been a while since a thing happened but that thing has been much on my mind lately.
That thing was inexorably wrapped up with the writing of my newest novel, No Harder Prison back in the early aughts. That book has just been published by Down and Out Books and for the publication I wrote a piece for the most excellent Lance at Omnimystery (most excellent writing about No Harder Prison)
The following piece is also about the novel, though at the time the book wasn’t finished nor did it have a name. This was originally published in Cemetery Dance back in 2001, and I thought it might be an interesting to haul it out, blow the dust off, and take a trip down a rocky bit of memory lane.
February 18, 2001.
About 9:00 am.
I’m in a workshop, overseeing the building of a set I designed for a musical. Lots of noise, lots of dust, lots of paint. It’s a gray day, overcast with clouds looking like nothing so much as late-term pregnant women. I hope they give birth, I love the rain.
This is the first of three shows I’ll be working on during this one day. Three different shows, three different theaters, sixteen hours with no scheduled break.
I did this to myself.
Sent: Saturday, February 10, 2001, 11:24 AM
Subject: Re: First Novel Blurb
Hi, Trey –
Very good idea to do up your first chapter as a chapbook and send it around to conventions for the goodie bag. I’d be glad to read your mystery and give it a blurb.
February 18, 2001
About 11:00 am.
I’ve left the workshop and am sitting in front of Temple Events Center in Denver. My little Ford Ranger is crammed with audio and light gear. Amps, mixers, PA speakers, a CD player, cables, lights galore, dimmer packs, more cables, colored gels, computerized light board, tools. Lunch.
My truck sits way back on its rear axle. It looks like a fairly straight laced 34 year-old white boy trying desperately to be hip with a low-slung truck.
It isn’t raining yet but will any minute. The rain is so thick I can smell it. I grew up in west Texas where it rained once a year whether it needed to or not. I can’t wait, I love the rain.
I begin unloading the mountain of gear. It’s for a dance show that’s raising funds for the earthquake victims in India. They’ve been hit twice in only weeks and it’s hard for me to imagine going through something so life changing. I can’t imagine anything other than the safe, comfortable life I lead. A little chaotic sometimes but a good life, filled with the knowledge that everything will always be fine.
A paraphrase of a phone conversation on February 12 or 13, 2001:
Trey: “…damned thing ain’t working for shit.”
Dick: “You know, sometimes when I get stuck, I go to the end. Write that last scene and then see what you need directly before it and write that. Then go right before that scene and write that.”
Trey: “Oh, that’s freakish, I never thought of that.”
Dick: “If that doesn’t work for you, send me the manuscript and I’ll give it a read. Maybe I can figure out what’s wrong with it.”
Trey: “I don’t know, I’ve fucked it up pretty good.”
Dick: “I’m sure it’s fine, it’s just hard to see sometimes when you’re that close to a project.”
February 18, 2001
About 11:15 am.
At first, I thought it was pollution. Denver had had three days’ worth of a temperature inversion. Our brown cloud would have made even LA envious. Then I thought maybe it was because I was unloading all that audio and light equipment. Lots of unloading, lots of physical exertion. Had to be one of those two things, didn’t it? This shortness of breath couldn’t be anything serious. Hell, I’m only 34, what else could it be?
It still wasn’t raining and I realized, as the first pains thudded through the middle of my chest, that the lack of rain was bumming me out. I wanted to see some rain.
I called 911 real quick. In fact, my Texas homeboys will probably take away my Texas Native Membership Card when they find out I didn’t tough out the pain.
The ambulance was there within five minutes. Then I was on the ground, staring at the sky—still no rain—and trying to tell the paramedics what was wrong with me. I think I may have mentioned something about having two heads and three arms. I don’t remember much of that conversation.
I just remember the pain.
From: <Tom Piccirilli>
Sent: Wednesday, February 14, 2001, 2:54 pm
Subject: Fwd: Laymon
Received this from Ed Gorman a few minutes ago.
<< Dick Laymon died two hours ago of a heart attack. >>
I didn’t see Dick when I had my heart attack, but he was there.
There was no apparition of Dick in the corner or floating over my bed or standing behind the nurses. But he was in my head. I was hypersensative to heart attacks because of Dick. I called 911 more quickly than I probably would have because of Dick. I was in the hospital, IVs and EKGs, making bad jokes at the nurse’s expense (memo: don’t make jokes about a woman holding lots of needles while she’s trying to save your life, its bad form) because of Dick.
My quick recovery is not a silver lining, there is no silver lining in death.
But Dick’s death did make me think. It did make me call 911 quickly.
Dick’s death did help me, though it shreds my insides to say that. Seems like a high price to pay for me to have suffered a mild heart attack instead of a massive heart attack.
Dick and I became—I like to think, anyway—quite good friends over the last year. Mutual friends—Tom Piccirilli, Alan Beatts—brought Dick and I together, though I’d been a fan of his work for years. He and I talked frequently about writing and publishing and similar topics that were oh so heavy and deeply thought out and full of philosophy. But after that, like a cheap beer after an expensive meal, we talked about the kind of stupid, inane bullshit that so often seems to fill phone conversations.
But it is those very stupid things that made me realize Dick was more than just a writer spending lots of his own time helping younger writers. It was those things that made me realize Dick was simply a cool guy and would have been cool whether spending his life writing or clerking in a low-rent convenience store in south-central LA.
Obviously, I will miss him.
Obviously, the world of literature will miss him.
There is no silver lining, but he helped me. And maybe my heart attack can help someone else. In a strange way, a perverse and dark way that Dick might have chuckled over, it’s what Dick had been doing for years.
By the way, it still hasn’t rained.
It’s just a bit more than four miles between the two.
Ghost towns that, had they been any further off U.S. 84, would long since have slipped into unconscious memory. One has 53 people, the other has none; no cattle or horses, no cars or residences or business.
Just dust, tumbleweeds, and maybe whispers of the dead carried on the breeze. It is New Mexico, where Dia De Los Muertos celebrations are earnest and heartfelt.
West of Clovis about 40 miles is Tolar, New Mexico. It was laid out in 1905 as a supplier of sand for nearby railroad construction.
Sadly, it was the railroad that did most of the damage to Tolar. In 1944, an 81-car train derailed. Among the cargo…165 500-pound bombs bound for the military and World War II. It was about 92,000 pounds of high explosives. It was reported at the time that of the 30 residents of Tolar, only 6 were home. There was only one fatality.
Four miles west of Tolar is Taiban, New Mexico. Another railroad town, built at the same time, populated with the same kinds of people, one of the many railroad towns that dot the west and have since withered. Though there are still people in Taiban, about 50, on any given day I suspect there are more amateur photographers than that.
The Presbyterian church. It stands alone, literally, in a field, and stands, impervious to time or human dictate, allowing whoever need stop to do so; to photograph, to pray, to leave prayers marked upon its walls.
Its walls are littered with graffiti, with prayers and hopes….
…with esoteric quotes….
“I strove toward God…and stumbled upon myself.”
“Ugh…is this really necessary?”
She put some extra bitch into the word really, slithered those soft vowels out until they were as sharp as a stiletto blade.
I ground my teeth and said exactly none of what I wanted to say.
I love traffic stops. They are a buffet of the unknown. Any given car, on any day, can be absolutely pleasant…with a driver who was just moving too quickly and we have a quick laugh before moving on our separate ways…or it can be a nightmare of wanted felons, guns, drugs…complete chaos.
Perversely, night time traffic stops are even more fun because no matter how much light you put into that car, you can’t see everything. You have no idea what’s going on, what they might have, what they might do.
But this woman? Bitch-kitty on wheels.
I stopped her at 75 miles an hour…twenty over the limit…and when I got to the driver’s door, the first thing I noticed was the superficiality.
The car was fancy and extravagant and shined to within an inch of its life, yeah, but the woman? A late ’20s blonde? Fake hair, fake nails, fake boobs, a smile that stank of phoniness (you know, upturned corners but pushed out in the middle…a sneer disguised as a smile), and so much make up that I actually thought of Jack Nicholson’s Joker.
“The reason I stopped you, ma’am, is you were speeding.”
“Was I? I didn’t realize that.” She took an obvious glance at her speedometer, then looked back at me with that fucking sneer thing she had going on. “I didn’t think I was speeding.”
She looked at me as though I were a lump of roadkill, maybe a used and full condom left in the dirt. “75? Are you sure?”
She snorted, let her eyes wander up and down me with total disgust, and looked at the cars passing, her face getting more twisted up as she watched other drivers watch her.
Here’s the thing: I don’t write lots of tickets. They’re expensive and most traffic stops are four or five minute interludes that just don’t need a ticket. Most traffic stops are people thinking about what’s for dinner, or worried about their new boss, or thinking about their big date. Most traffic stops are just humans being, rather than humans being assholes.
When I write tickets, it’s because someone was doing something so beyond idiotic that I simply can’t ignore it; I can’t just let them continue doing something that dangerous and stupid.
In harvest season, that means driving 75 miles an hour in a 55 on a road that carries huge amounts of farm machinery; combines and tractors, wagons and farm trucks, and hundreds of deer fleeing the harvesting.
The other thing is that I already know if a driver is getting a ticket. Before I get them stopped, before I have any contact with them; if their driving is that balls-out shitty, then they’re already getting a ticket. It is impossible to talk yourself into a ticket because I write action, not attitude.
“I’m a hurry.” Then she flicked her hand, just a little, to indicate I needed to get on with it.
Through gritted teeth I thought: write action, not attitude.
This kind of self-centered narcissism drives me absolutely bug-fuck. How is it my fault that you’re getting a ticket when you – YOU – were the one using your car as a missile?
When I came back with the ticket, she stared at it, and said, “I thought the speed limit was 65.”
Yes, I slipped, just the tiniest bit. Yes, I was juuuuuust a tiny bit of a dick.
“So speeding just 10 miles over the limit, rather than 20?”
She snorted again and stared at me with her empty eyes and her lips in that sneer I had already come to love so much.
When I handed her the ticket, she said, “Ugh…is this really necessary?”
Except it sounded like “Ugh…is this reeeeaaaallllly necessary?”
“Not at all. Slow down and it’s not necessary at all.”
With that, I thank her for her cooperation. She actually spun her tires a little getting back on the road.
A while later, I had another traffic stop. This guy had tapped his brakes but not really slowed down all that much at a four corners in the county. There were no other cars around and he wasn’t speeding particularly badly.
When I stopped him, he was crying and could hardly speak. I’ve had criers before. I don’t automatically discount the tears, but very close. Actually had a woman crying once while I was at the car, then laughing on her phone when I was in my squad. As soon as I got back to her, still on the phone, the water works started again.
“Sir, is there any reason you didn’t come to a complete stop?”
He said nothing for a minute, kept crying, and tried to take a deep breath. It was hitched and forced and full of pain.
“My mother is dying.”
He pointed up the road with his head, toward the next big town in the next county.
I said earlier that it is impossible to talk yourself into a ticket. I knew, before I even stopped this guy, he was getting a ticket.
“She probably won’t last….” He stopped, shook his head, and said, “Never mind. I ran the stop sign. I’m sorry.”
But it isn’t impossible to talk yourself out of a ticket. This wasn’t the previous woman, this wasn’t someone trying to get over on me. This was a human being and he was hurting. This was a man who did not need a ticket.
I told him I was sorry for his trouble, and sent him on his way.
“Trey, what a fucking idiot,” I can hear you saying. “He was lying. He was scamming you. He played you like a cheap Slingerland.”
Except during the stop, a man pulled up behind us and after the stop I went to find out his story. He was a friend of the man I just stopped. He told me about the man’s dying mother.
Sometimes, people aren’t lying to me. Sometimes, people really do have a reason for what they do. Sometimes, they aren’t shiny cars and fake nails.
“Trey ain’t such a bad guy.”A jail inmate, charged with murder. Murderers, thieves, junkies, those … Read More