Sunday, April 25, 2010

Perspective: Use It or Lose It

On the first day of the Citizen Police Academy, each of us was handed a card with an indistinguishable black and white photo on it. We were told to keep looking at it until the subject became clear. First one, then another of my classmates raised their hands.

It wasn't long before nearly everyone else but me figured out what was in the photo. Finally, someone took pity and told me what I was supposed to see in the optical illusion -- the head of a cow. Of course. It seems so obvious now. Can you see it?

The police officers were trying to make the point that things aren't always what they seem -- and if you look at them from a different perspective, you may see something totally different from what you initially thought. This is important to remember in police work. Then the Police Chief said, "It's like that arrow in FedEx -- once you see it, you always will."

I had no idea what he was talking about, but for weeks I stared at the FedEx delivery trucks parked outside the FedEx/Kinko's next to my gym. I've walked around them and looked from every angle. I still couldn't see it -- but I figured the Police Chief probably wasn't lying. So I kept looking.

And then finally last week, there it was -- clear as day. How could I have missed it? Can you see it now, too, thanks to the beige coloring on the arrow?

It made me think of one of Husband No. 1's favorite sayings -- "Perspective: Use it or lose it." I try to remember these (rare) words of wisdom when it IS important to see the forest for the trees.

A different perspective can sometimes help you find find success. For example, it was only when I truly believed that I was doing something good for myself, rather than feeling deprived, that I was able to finally quit a heavy smoking habit and years later, lose a good amount of weight.
Perspective: Use it or lose it.

Another kind of perspective I've been thinking about this past week is how sometimes our problems don't seem so huge when compared to what what others are experiencing. I think about my friend maintaining a vigil by her husband's side since mid-March when he became critically ill, and nearly died, the day after their daughter's destination wedding in Jamaica (a word to the wise: Jamaica's resorts may be nice, but the hospital care is horrific and he was flown to Texas, where he is still struggling to recover). I think about the girl a family law judge told us about last week -- sexually molested by three different men -- her father, then her stepfather and finally his brother -- all before she turned 15. Or the woman who told the same judge she couldn't go looking for work until she could afford to buy a pair of shoes.

Perspective: Use it or lose it. Is there any place in your life that could use some perspective?

And if you could still "use" a little help to see the cow, take a look now:

(There won't be a blog update next weekend as I'll be away attending a mystery conference. Let me know if you miss hearing from me. :)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

"Don't freak out, but .... "

That was the subject line of a message that popped into my emailbox early Friday morning and as you might expect, I totally freaked out over what the rest of the missive from No. 1 son might say.

With my imagination in overdrive, I feared something had happened on his overnight shift that was too terrible to tell us over the telephone. Or had the "I want a bike" message on his Facebook page finally led to the dreaded purchase of a motorcycle?

Needless to say, my heart was doing somersaults while I opened the email. To my surprise, it contained a link to a news story that had nothing to do with No. 1 son but everything to do with No. 2.

It seems the Army Corps of Engineers has uncovered a fourth major disposal area for World War I weapons in a neighborhood near American University, the college we pay thousands of dollars for No. 2 son to attend. Apparently it was once home to an Army chemical warfare testing station -- something I do NOT recall reading in the school's slick admissions brochure.

The most recent finds were a jar containing the chemical agent mustard, glassware still smoking and fuming (since World War 1????), scrap munitions, and oh yeah, a shell containing a tear gas agent. (For the gory details, click here.) I picked up the phone and called No. 1, who was en route to bed after working all night. I knew No. 2would never be awake at that hour.) "I wonder if maybe you should get in your truck and go get your brother," I said, only half-kidding.

"What -- in my hazmat suit?" he chuckled, then advised me such attire wasn't standard issue for DC Metro Police.

Life is never dull with these children. I'm not sure what to do about this interesting new piece of information about No. 2's son current location because AU assures us there's no danger. Whether or not that's true, my investment in "color enhancement" is skyrocketing as I attempt to deal with the gray hair created by activities related to my children.

It's also been another week of wondering whether participating in the local Citizens Police Academy was a good choice for parental sanity. I did a four-hour ride-along with a patrolman Friday night and let me tell you, watching him use his right hand to touch every vehicle he stopped unnerved me even more about No. 1 son's career choice.

The reason law enforcement officers do this, you see, is to make sure their fingerprints are on the vehicle in case something goes terribly wrong with the traffic stop. The patrolman also called in the plate number to the dispatcher before approaching any vehicles he pulled over so there would be a record of the car or truck involved. Law enforcement officers are only too aware that motor vehicle stops and domestic disturbance calls can be the most unpredictable -- and deadly.

I had hoped the Citizens Police Academy would help with my mystery writing, and it will. Just last week during the demonstration on TASERs, I realized with a jolt (a literary, not literal one) that a personal TASER would be a useful tool for one of the characters in my novel-in-progress.

(TASER, by the way, is named for the 1911 book "Thomas Swift's Electric Rifle" that inspired the weapon's creator. These nasty "less than lethal" weapons shoot two hooked electrodes into a person and then deliver a five-second pulse carrying 50,000 volts that causes temporary paralysis and considerable pain which reportedly ends the second the pulse does. I can't speak from experience -- I was too afraid to shoot one last week, fearing I might hit one of CPA classmates by mistake. )

Mystery writers, as you may know, write about what interests them (so you can count on "Murder Most Municipal" containing several police department tidbits). A good example of this is the Dirty Business Mystery series authored by my friend Rosemary Harris, a master gardener whose new book "Dead Head" is featured in the short book trailer below. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Facing the Unknown

My knees felt weak as I grasped the cold, heavy metal weapon and adrenaline surged through my body. I didn't know if the angry trucker reaching into his pocket would pull out his driver's license -- or a gun.

My brain exploded into overdrive. Should I shoot or wait -- and pray? Was my life in enough danger that it would justify taking his? What if I missed? Or what if I guessed wrong -- and the trucker didn't intend to hurt anyone. It might take just a single shot to create a widow and leave his children fatherless because of my mistake.

My heart was pounding and my hands were sweating. And it was only a simulation.

The trucker was an actor in a video on a large screen. My gun was real, but it had been adapted to fire a laser beam instead of bullets. A guy sitting at a computer could change the scenario depending on how I reacted to what was on the screen. It was all part of the Citizens Police Academy, a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at police work for three hours each Wednesday evening for eight weeks.

And although the suspects in the simulation videos couldn't shoot at me, the experience provided a small glimpse into the split-second decisions my son -- and other law enforcement officers -- must make every day.

It also gave me a new appreciation of the potential ramifications of each of those decisions -- and a clearer understanding of the courage it must take for any law officer, including those patrolling in tiny, quiet towns, to approach a vehicle after pulling it over, not knowing if the person inside has a gun and a reason to use it. The other night I drove past a State Trooper approaching a car he'd stopped along the highway and I burst into tears.

And while I've learned so much at the Citizen Police Academy, I'm beginning to wonder if applying was a mistake. It's beginning to feel a whole lot like my great idea years ago that covering airline safety hearings on Capitol Hill would cure me of newly developed nervousness about flying after a really turbulent and scary flight. Instead, I haven't gotten on a plane in over 25 years.

I'm thinking this Citizen Police Academy experience is going to destroy every last one of my comforting trips into the Land of Denial where, when I get really unnerved about No. 1 son's chosen profession, I pretend he really did get a degree in engineering and is now working in that high-paying profession in Washington, DC.

Of course some of our recent conversations have made that delusion difficult anyway. When you ask how work is going and your child says he was in a high-speed chase one day and climbing onto roofs to look for burglars the next, it's hard to make-believe that he's talking about calculators and math. The announcement that he'll be part of a unit using mountain bikes to patrol and control in civil disturbances -- and that he knows how to use the bike as a weapon if he has to -- didn't help.

But Sunday I asked a question that probably doesn't occur to most mothers, whether their children are engineers or something else, and it was all because of a video we watched at the Citizen Police Academy. What I had to know was: "Can you can load and shoot a gun with one hand? Because if you can't, please start praticing."

He assured me he's been trained in that skill. Fortunately, most law enforcement officers have been, especially after the 1986 FBI shootout with criminals in Miami depicted in the video showed how critical that talent can be when your shooting arm is disabled by gunfire and the bad guys are advancing with every intention of killing you.

I don't think they teach that in engineering school.