Monday, November 26, 2012

'Tis the Season--of what?

This year, Black Friday started on Grey Thursday, formerly known as Thanksgiving.  Media reports tell the tale of shoppers graciously stepping aside to allow others to pass, sharing coveted items, and bonding with their fellow man. The crowds linked arms and sang, reveling in the true joy of the holidays, their hearts filled with sorrow for those who chose to stay home, struggling to stay warm by the fire, picking through leftover food and watching It's A Wonderful Life with Aunt Mae and Uncle John. Those poor saps.

Today is Cyber Monday. This day, people will sit at their computers, point their mouse, click their fingers and watch their bank accounts deplete. They will do this with smug satisfaction while wearing their jammies and interacting with no one. Packages will be delivered from a brown sleigh on four wheels complete with a non-denominational, generic holiday platitude personalized to the masses. (Please note, masses here is defined as a large group of common people and not celebrations of the Holy Eucharist.)

In the coming weeks, advertisers will eschew using words such as Christmas or Hanukah, Kwanza or any other label, all the while depicting homey scenes where everyone in the family is drawn together for, what? Tuesday?

Since humanity's earliest days, there have been times of celebration; successful harvests, weddings, births, deaths, the rising of the Nile, et al. And ever since man put his faith in deities to explain the inexplicable, many celebrations have a decidedly religious bent.

Non-denominational is not inclusive. Accepting other people's beliefs is.

Holidays are only meaningful when they, well, actually mean something. From childhood, the beliefs of our family helped form us, even if we adopt new belief systems later in life in response to something we rebelled against. Likewise, the characters we create have visceral emotions about holidays. What do they celebrate? How do they celebrate, and what does that reveal about them? 

There are those who will gladly fight crowds and trade elbows then celebrate their bounty. Point and click will provide some people with their roadmap to Nirvana. If you can gather the family around to celebrate Tuesday, I commend you. But those are not holidays. They are events.

Holidays are special days because of their unique rituals and the feelings they provoke in our hearts. They should do the same for your characters.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Holiday Joy

Cops work holidays. It's written into the job description right between Court will always fall on your day off and Overtime will occur when you are most fatigued. It's just another one of the perks.

Working a holiday is a mixed bag. Sometimes it's quiet. Thanksgiving tends to be pretty benign. Maybe it's the tryptophan. It's not unusual for the officers' families to throw together a potluck- proving that it's the people, not the place that makes it special.

Christmas morning also tends to be calm. Happy children opening presents, parents sipping coffee, Santa tossing back a cold one now that his job is done for the year.  Things start to go south as the day progresses. The toys break, there's no more Baileys for the coffee, Santa's on a bender. People actually will grab onto a Christmas Tree when they are placed under arrest, they will curse in front of the children.

Halloween? Right up front, it poses the question, are you going to give me what I want or am I going to have to make you suffer?  It's sanctioned robbery. The little ones make it sound cute. They're forgiven their transgressions. The adults? Not so much. Add in alcohol and well, a party's not a party 'til the cops show up.

Superbowl Sunday is another. Don't quibble about it being a holiday. It is. It also has the dubious distinction of being the day with the highest number of domestic violence calls. 'Nuf said.

Holidays are days of extremes. The stress of trying to replicate a Courier & Ives moment can frazzle even the most bubbly among us. But holidays also bring out the best in people. I've been fortunate to have witnessed both. While I prefer the latter, it was the former that kept me in business.

Today is Thanksgiving. A day to take a step back, remember what's important, count the blessings that are all too easy to ignore. Hug your loved ones, load up on the turkey, find a couch. Out on the streets, in the hospitals, behind the fire lines, emergency service people and soldiers are there to protect you.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Tools of the Trade

Cops love their gadgets. Usually, police departments provide all the equipment an officer needs. Some departments allot a uniform allowance (paid once or twice a year).  Regardless, officers tend to spend a boatload of their own money purchasing equipment that enhances their safety, their comfort or their cool quotient.

Case(s) in point:
Body armor air conditioning.  Wearing a ballistic vest on a hot day sucks. No way around it. Imagine the layers; a wool uniform shirt on top, a ballistic vest, a sweat-soaked t-shirt next to your skin. Bonus if you're a woman-- add another layer for the bra. Now picture yourself in Albuquerque or Phoenix, or in a little old lady's home where the thermostat is set to a balmy 97 degrees. Makes you want to go right on out and sign up, no?  The patrol car becomes your sanctuary. Crank the a/c and feel the heat ripple off your body as the cool air--oh, wait. Nope. Too many layers.  So the kind folk at CoolCop devised a hose that connects to the car's air vent on one end and attaches the other end to the front of the officer's ballistic vest then funnels cool air under the vest. Reminiscent of being hooked up to a vacuum hose, it looks geekier than all get-out, but darn if it doesn't feel great.

Flashlights.  The first flashlight issued to me could have been used by Nancy Drew. Over the years I've accumulated Maglites, Streamlights, full size, pocket size, rechargeable, battery powered, lights for my guns, and even a small light that attached under the flap of my uniform pocket.  Let's face it. Cops hate being left in the dark.

Guns. This being a blog and not a dissertation, I'm skipping this. Suffice it to say, guns are the cops ultimate gadget. As such, yeah, just about every single cop has at least one personal handgun. Some could arm a small nation.

Pens. We buy them by the bagful and give them out like candy at Halloween. Some of the people we request signatures from have cooties the likes of which we just don't want. Keep the pen. Consider it our gift to you.

Handcuffs. The Peerless Handcuff Company is the go-to company for cuffs. Their swing-through arm revolutionized restraints and law enforcement has been using their products for a hundred years. Every officer is issued a set of handcuffs, but sometimes, crooks come in matching sets. Thus, it is the rare officer who only carries a single pair. For variety, Peerless has hinged cuffs, chained cuffs, leg restraints, waist restraints, oversized, and for the fashion conscious, colors. Yes, you too can own pink handcuffs.

The list goes on and presents myriad opportunities to customize your character's quirks. Maybe your character cherishes something handed down from one generation to another, eschewing the modern version. An officer's choice of equipment is personal and revealing. What tools do your characters carry?