I go back to work tomorrow morning at six. I last worked the Wednesday overnight in the suburbs, which really wasn’t like working because I slept all night in a bed, and only did one call at five-thirty in the morning, and I didn’t even have to tech that one. I was planning to work on Friday and Saturday, but there were no shifts open. Lately all I’ve had to do was call in to get a shift, but I guess they’ve hired more people or maybe it’s the college students wanting to score a last pay-day before hitting the books. At any rate, I found myself with some unplanned free time.
Thursday I sat on the couch all day and watched the entire 12 episodes of The Wire: The Complete Season Three. If you have never watched it, it is the best show on cable TV. I don’t have HBO, but I liked to buy or rent the series when they come out on DVD. The wire is about cops, drug dealers and politicians in Baltimore. Each episode involves a “wire” where the special police unit listens in on the drug dealers. What is great about the series is the quality of writing and acting. Phenomenal dialogue. The stories are very realistic, and the personalities are complex. Lots of shades of gray. The cops and politicians and drug dealers are all very similar in their approaches. One of the main protagonists is a cop, who is all about the case. He’ll disobey superiors to do what is necessary to solve the case. He is “good police” but being “good police” is always getting him in trouble with his superiors. Plus his personal life is screwed up. He’s divorced, he’s broke, he drinks too much.
He gets in an argument with his buddy about how all that matters is getting the case solved, and his buddy asks him what he’s going to do with his life if he ever does get the case solved, if he will feel fulfilled or will he be just as empty the next morning after the night’s celebratory drinking, as he is now, and when will it end. He tells him life is what is happening to him while he’s too busy with the case to notice.
There is another character who is a police major who grew up on the streets and decides to try an innovative strategy to solve the horrible crime rate -— he pushes the drug trade in his district into an abandoned section where he tells the dealers he will leave them alone as long as they stay in the special zones. It works great for awhile, the street corners are safe for people to walk on again, crime is way down, they are even sending health people in to do needle exchange, health and intervention programs, but he knows it won’t last, that when it is discovered that he has basically legalized drugs, there will be a shitstorm, and he’ll be on the wrong end of it, and then the streets will go back to what they were and he’ll have lost his command, but he does it anyway. He’s glad he’s at least doing something.
And there are two drug dealers who have come up together from the streets, and while one is in prison the other sets up these elaborate private and legitimate businesses – basically insulating them from the street, which they still control but are removed from the violence and the reach of police. They have more money than they could ever spend. But when the guy gets out of prison, he can’t deal with the fact that someone else is on his corners or that his rep suffers because the higher interests of business say don’t retaliate to a small slight, keep the streets quiet, the business going, the profits coming in. His friend asks him “Is it about the money or your rep?”
I was doing a lot of thinking that day. Good story-telling will do that to you.
I thought about the great Karl Wallenda, the guy who walked on the high wire. He said he was only alive when he was on the wire, everything else was waiting. He of course plunged to his death when a gust of wind swept him into the void.
Who are we? How do we see ourselves? What matters most about our time on earth? I can toss out the stock answers: family, God for some, the community, peace on earth. I don’t know. Everyone has their own inner fire, their inner drives, their lonesome valleys – their walks to make.
So, Friday I go to the gym. Pump the iron. I’m starting to get back into some shape after slacking off for awhile. I need the gym today. I’m a little out of sorts. My friend who has cancer emailed me that after her treatment her physical exam that day showed no signs of her tumor. There was some transmission problem with the CAT SCAN, so she didn’t have those results, but it all sounded like great news. I emailed back a Whoo-Hoo! but then I was bothered by the Cat Scan line. I had a growing bad feeling and when I called her that night, it was confirmed – there was a lesion in a new area. They have to do more tests, but still, it just sounded like the weight of the world was back on her, the big shadow approaching again. I didn’t know what to say to her. I felt helpless.
I did some errands, went out to Best Buy and bought a CD for the first time in a long time. The new Bob Dylan – Modern Times. I listened to it while I drank beer and played on-line poker. When it comes to poker, I’m a grinder not a gambler. I only play limits I can beat. I’m patient; I sit and wait, bet when the odds are in my favor, fold if there is any doubt. I’m a steady winner, but you won’t see me on TV, I’ll have no big cashes. Just slow and steady. I don’t win every session – I am as subject to fate and the standard deviation as the next man, but I’m better than most at the tables I play. I don’t sit down with the sharks. I just wait. Discipline is key. I like to drink beer when I play so there is another battle going on – the battle between the beer and the sense, but lately it doesn’t matter. I can sit down with a cooler full and I don’t loose my control. Fold, fold, over and over, waiting my moment to raise, my moment to go all-in. Every month I tabulate my modest earnings. Not anything to retire on — no new car this year. Still every little bit helps.
I’m not always like that in real life – not always in control. Maybe that’s why I try so hard to master it at the poker table. They say poker reveals your true character. It may be so, but life is where your character counts.
Dylan’s album is the third in a trilogy. It’s really good. The last album had a song called “Mississippi” about a guy whose ship has been ” splint to splinters” that has another great line in it that goes “The only thing I did wrong, I stayed in Mississippi a day too long.” I remember playing it for my friend. It was a good drinking song. It’s the kind of song you sing with a beer in your hand(and empties on the table)– and you sing it aloud and give a joyous finger to the fates all waiting for you again outside the barroom.
The new album has a song about a guy who says, “They burnt my barn and stole my horse.” But he’s still strong enough to sing about it.
I guess that’s the important thing – to be strong enough to recognize that everything is little shit compared to the important shit and the important shit is the ability to sing your songs — to try to be good police or a good paramedic – to solve the case, to do what you feel you need to even if its going to come back and burn you, to care in your heart about something — family, god, the job –whatever, as long as you give a damn.
I slept till I got up
is morning. It was a cold day, raining off and on and I used that as an excuse not to mow my overgrown lawn. I worked some on my novel, and then took my girlfriend’s eleven-year-old to a big agricultural fair. It was a long drive to get there most of it on empty wooded country roads. Over an hour trip. For awhile there I thought I was lost, thought I had taken a wrong turn, cursing myself for leaving the directions at home, trying to rely on my memory. But then there ahead was the Ferris wheel.
My young traveling friend wasn’t feeling too well so we just walked around for awhile. It was cold and windy and the rain was threatening again. She wasn’t up to going on any rides and the barker’s come-ons didn’t interest her. She didn’t like the smell of the animals in the barns. I bought her some cotton candy and fried dough with powdered sugar on it. We had an artist draw a portrait of her that came out okay. We only stayed an hour. She thanked me when I dropped her off back at home and asked if I was working tomorrow. I said I was. She said okay, and asked if I could take her swimming at the indoor pool the next time I had a day off. I said I would.
Now I’m listening to Dylan again, playing poker — I’m up $27 — and hoping to get to bed at a reasonable hour. No beer tonight. I’ve already got my uniform laid out for tomorrow, my backpack in the car.
I’ll punch in about ten minutes before six, although they won’t start paying me until six. I’ll check my gear out, check the rig, and then I’ll wait.
Wait to see what the day, what the job brings, what life has out there waiting me.