Category Archives: thoughts

An Anecdote About How I Review Books

When I was in college, I studied Creative Writing, which had a fair number of literature classes required, as you might imagine (thought perhaps not as many literature classes as a literature degree would require). In fact, it’s only my years of extensive education that allow me to craft such complex sentences as the preceding one; my education in this area also explains my love of the semicolon.

There’s a lot about college that I don’t really remember. Sometimes, for fun(?), I try to remember all the classes I actually took. For the classes that I do remember, I try to remember my professors’ names. And eventually I arrive at the conclusion that my memory sucks, I’m bad at paying attention, and what’s the point of any of this! But there are things that I remember from college, in particular, the following anecdote:

It was a literature class, although fuck me if I can remember what the actual focus was. We studied Moby Dick for a while, which narrows it down marginally (I took an African American literature class once and can confirm Moby Dick was not part of the curriculum.) At one point in the semester, my professor showed us one of those videos you can create, the ones where there are two animated characters that can discuss whatever you like, and all you need to do is fill out the text bubbles so they’ll talk to each other with appropriate animations and camera angles. It’s the kind of thing that’s a novelty for exactly the first video you see, maaaybe the first video you try to create, and then never again. I wonder if I can find it. Hold please.

And we’re back. For you, dear reader, the transition was instantaneous. For me, it was 45 minutes of getting sucked into YouTube videos. I forgot what I was talking about. Oh, right.

I was not able to find the video itself, though I did the original video that created the meme. Take a look if you’d like to see the style; it’s exactly the same as what my professor did, down to the robot voices and two bears.

In the video my professor created, the title was something like “the problem with reading difficult books.” And one of the bears (the one with the vaguely feminine voice) expresses frustration with how hard it is to read certain books and how she often has to read them several times to understand what they are saying.

Then the other bear points out that you don’t really need to do that. “Simply stare at the book for an appropriate length of time. Say ‘hmmmm’ a lot. Then in class, instead of talking about the book, talk about how the book made you feel. Other students will think you are attractive and interesting. You will go on many dates with other students who also did not read the book. And perhaps one day you will have children of your own, who will grow up not reading the book.”

And at the time, I was like daaaaamn, this guy is way too young to have that level of despair regarding the worth ethic of his students. And that video was the one thing I remembered from his class, so, hrm, maybe he was on to something.

The reason I bring up this little trip down memory lane is because when I write reviews for books these days, I basically just talk about exactly that; how the book made me feel. And every time I do, there’s this little voice in the back of my head telling me that I’m letting Professor (sorry, can’t remember your name) down, because I’m just talking about how I feel. The little voice tells me that I should be doing more rigorous analysis, more detailed examination, more critical thinking, instead of something I type up during a fifteen minute break or during lunch.

I tell myself that I don’t actually have to do anything I don’t feel like doing; I’m not a professional reviewer and I don’t think my little reviews are going to earn me any actual career advancement. So I can do them however the hell I want. But there’s always that voice telling me that I should do more, that I owe it to the author and to my own ridiculously over-priced degree to do work at the level I’m capable of doing.

But I don’t. I just talk about how I feel after having read it and take comfort in the fact that in my mind, I’m always just talking to myself and if you’re actually reading this now, it’s entirely an accident of fate and not by my design.

Also, there’s the fact that I originally didn’t even bother writing reviews; I’d just slap a few stars down on Goodreads, grunt, and go on my way. So the fact that I’m actually leaving thoughts at all is a big step forward, if you think about it.

All I’m saying is that I’m aware of what I’m doing. But I also know that I don’t really like reviews as a thing. I don’t trust reviews if I don’t know anything about the reviewer. This is true for reviews of everything other than washing machines (for those, I just need to know if it’s going to wash my clothes). But for everything else, for books, movies, video games, I don’t actually care about the professional reviews. I need the reviews from people that match my particular profile: people who think that (motorcycle + velociraptor) x Chris Prat = awesome is an equation that leads us to the highest echelon of entertainment. I’m aware that Jurassic World was not actually a  good movie. I’m just also saying that I don’t care.

So, that’s why I do what I do.

Would You Pay For An Ad-free Internet? I Would. And Some Other Thoughts On Noise.

This is not the first time I’ve ruminated about ad block. But it’s on my mind today.

I can’t remember when one of my savviest of tech savvy friends turned me onto ad block software, but it was a watershed moment; I immediately installed it on everything I own and never looked back. I’ve changed the specific program over the years (originally it was the classic Ad Block, though these days I favor uBlock), but regardless of the specific program, it’s always the same goal. I want a clean, minimalist, distraction-free browsing experience.

In fact, I didn’t realize how bad advertising clutter had gotten until I borrowed a co-worker’s terminal to cover her service point (public library term, basically, an information desk) and used a browser without ad block.

I am not exaggerating when I say that it felt unusable. Videos started autoplaying, forcing me to choose between keeping the sound muted and being able to hear important alert notices and phone calls through our call routing software. Things crawled and slid and demanded that I interact with them in some way to get them out of the content. Worst of all was the ads that seemed intentionally built to create an accidental click; trying to close it instead opened a new link to whatever product or service was being peddled. It was awful and it made me retreat to my own station with my clean, quiet, distraction-free experience.

It was a painful realization for someone who works with information professionally, but here it is; the greatest information pipeline in human history is filled mostly with garbage. Fortunately, you can put a filter on your particular tap to remove the junk, akin to using a Brita filter when you don’t trust the quality of the local water.

I actually have a strong feeling of revulsion to most forms of advertising. I hate it. I hate the noise that it represents.

When I was a kid, the television (televisions, really) was the electronic hearth around which life revolved. As far as I can remember, the television was on. My parents watched it. My brother and I watched it. We all watched it. Even if no one was watching it, the television was usually on, as something to be “listened to” or even just as “background noise.”

Our first computer was located in the kitchen/breakfast table area. There was a television in this room, too. I recall when I started to write, when I wrote my first complete manuscript for a terrible fantasy novel, I learned to tune out the noise around me with what felt like superhuman focus. But there was always so much noise.

I haven’t had cable television in my life in probably ten years. This was never done as some sort of act of defiance; I never made the decision to become a “cord cutter.” The rise of digital delivery, a la carte downloading, and other services created a much more powerful incentive for the consumption of content. The fact that it was ad free (because I was either paying for the individual episodes or for the subscription service itself) was just a bonus.

This is how it’s been for so long that I forgot how noisy the rest of the world is.

I came to realize how much noise I’d filtered out when I went back to Tucson to visit my family earlier this year and spent a few days at my brother’s house and then a few at my mother’s. Once again, cable television with all its commercials, all its ads, all its noise, was back in my life. Even at my mom’s place, with her candles, crystals, peaceful demeanor, and adorably ancient cat . . . there was still the television and the noise.

It was a powerful lesson in how noisy life is and how much energy we spend ignoring it. Because make no mistake, even if you don’t consciously notice the noise, even if you can tune it out with superhuman focus as I did, your body is still experiencing it. Your ears are taking in the sound waves and your brain is filtering through the massive amount of data it ingests to prioritize what it believes to be the most important bits and so much exposure to this barrage of junk sound mean it all gets chucked into the spam folder . . . but that doesn’t mean it’s not still being ingested.

I resent it. I resent the bandwidth advertising consumes. I despise the cognitive tricks that are deployed to co-opt my reason and manipulate my emotions. I know enough to know that I’m not immune to these techniques; that they are crafted by people who devote their considerable intelligence to this purpose. I am not immune; thinking otherwise simply means you’re easier to manipulate.

I treasure silence. It’s hilariously stereotypical, considering my profession, but there it is.

Let’s return to the Internet and all its mental noise.

I understand why ads exist. I know that everything we do online has a cost and if I’m not paying for a service or product directly, it’s because I am the product. Ads are the price of admission. It’s the model that we’ve gotten used to. But it’s one that I’m sick of. I’m so sick of it that I pay money to keep ads off my site, because I don’t want anything I do to  help contribute to that flood of noise. It’s worth it to me.

I don’t think content should be free. Content has value and content creators should be compensated for their time and effort.

Many sites are switching to subscription models or donations or other options to pay for premium, ad-free experiences. And this is a good step, but it’s so fractured, so disjointed, that it wasn’t until I started seriously doing personal budgeting that I realized how many different goddamn subscriptions were sipping away at my finances. Things I’d used and forgotten to cancel. Things I used a few times a year. So many things. It’s too much mental bandwidth to responsibly manage all of those things, to do the mental math of deciding each and every time “how much did I use this site or that site this much? How much was this worth to me.”

The model I would use would be similar to my current cell provider, Ting. Each month, I use a certain amount of data and text messages. There’s a neat little meter that tracks it on my account. At the end of the billing cycle, they say “you used this much data,  you owe us this much.” And I pay that amount. You might also recognize this model as the one you get through your electric bill or your water bill or almost any other utility.

Websites already track your shit. All those cookies we mindlessly agree to are little troves of data to be bundled up, packaged, and sold, so that the commercial engine of the Internet continues to turn. Again, there is nothing on the web that is free. If you’re not paying for a product, you are the product, or more accurately, your information is or your viewership or whatever other metric advertisers are measuring.

So that’s what I want: a meter that tracks how much I view each site each month and then calculates a value and from that total bill, pays out whatever dividends my consumption of that content would have represented in terms of ad dollars. I want it manageable from one central location, instead of having forty different subscriptions charging me a dollar each.

I recognize that this model may not be possible right now. Who decides how much each site is worth? What if one site decides it costs me five dollars per page and another says it’s 10 cents? It obviously would require an entire paradigm shift and at the core, what I’m really saying is that I want to pay more money than I already do.

Because, let’s be honest; the current model is actually fine for me. I block the ads, I get the content, the cost of having me as a viewer is subsidized by all the people who aren’t blocking ads. In fact, it’s better for me if ad block never goes mainstream, because if too many people start using it, it will fail for everyone. Content providers will see their revenue dry up and then something must be done. I already have noticed an uptick in the number of sites that just flat-out deny access if you have ad block running.

But this does not feel ethical or right. This idea shows up in philosophy a lot. Kant’s categorical imperative and the prisoner’s dilemma come to mind as possible examples.

So there we are. I’m an Internet parasite. I’d like to change. But currently it’s not easy enough or rewarding enough to do so, so I don’t.

Sir Robert Peel’s Nine Principles

Sir Robert Peel is often regarded as the father of modern policing. His work led to the British Parliament’s decision to pass the Metropolitan Police Act of 1829. This was the act that American cities such as Boston and New York decided to emulate when they established their own police departments, which are, of course, still operating today. He is an iconic figure to many people in modern law enforcement.

Peel worked to convince his colleagues who feared an organized police force would not become tyrannical and militaristic and would not treat the citizenry as enemy combatants. Given the time frame (circa 1820, it’s easy to imagine why the citizenry would be mistrustful of those perceived as operating as soldiers, especially in Great Britain). To this end, Peel had nine principles that he believed all police should strive to uphold.

They are:

1. “The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.”

2. “The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions.”

3. “Police must secure the willing cooperation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.”

4. “The degree of cooperation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.”

5. “Police seek and preserve public favor not by catering to the public opinion but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.”

6. “Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient.”

7. “Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent upon every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.”

8. “Police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary.”

9. “The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.”

The wording on these nine principles will change slightly, depending on your source; it appears that they were never compiled in a formal document but were instead something that colleagues working with Peel decided to codify and distribute. Nevertheless, the spirit of his principles has been preserved through history.

My question, then, to those that police and those that are policed . . . how are we doing? Have Peel’s principles been upheld? Are we moving closer toward or further away from the virtuous institution that he created? Why or why not?

I Feel Bad About Running An Adblock But I Can’t Stop

Bloggers tend to have a complicated relationship with advertisements. For professional bloggers (i.e. those who make a living off this sort of thing), that’s the lifeblood of their profession. In fact, I’d go as far to say advertising is what’s created the Internet as we know it today (well, technically, the World Wide Web, but nobody seems to use that term anymore).

We expect to get content for free these days, but we also expect it to be of a professional quality. The days of some dude’s crappy Geocities page being the only source of information are long over; now, you can peruse hundreds of blogs written by people that, in a different decade, would be reporters for actual newspapers and the like. And advertising is what makes that happen.

And then there are the ad blockers. A brief description for the non-tech readers: an ad blocker is an app you can install, typically directly into your browser. It will scan the content of each page that you access and it will disable the various ads, pop-ups, sponsored content links, and other stuff that websites use to generate advertising revenue. The end result is that each page is decluttered from all the extra stuff that gets stuffed in there and it creates a cleaner, more enjoyable browsing experience.

For the user, there is no real downside. For content creators, however, there’s a huge downside, in that websites earn money by how often those ads they display are viewed and if people are blocking the ads, they’re not getting the page views, which means earning less money. It’s not a big loss if only a few people do it, but if enough users are blocking the ads, it can really hurt the content creator.

Aside from that, there’s a moral dimension as well: those ads are how creators get paid for their work. By blocking the ads, you’re getting the content for free, or at least, you’re not contributing to the creator getting paid. Is that stealing? You could make an argument that way. Certainly, I feel bad for using it. I feel like I’m taking advantage of the system.

Some creators get around it by moving to a subscription-based model; for a small fee, you get an ad-free experience and maybe some addition perks. For most people, there a likely a few sites that they use heavily enough where this is possible, but certainly not all of them; there’s just too much content out there.

Recently, I tried turning off my ab block to see if I could get by without it. The price of good content is a few ads, I told myself. After a week of browsing without an ad block, I was in a hurry to reactivate it.

It isn’t just that the ads are annoying or for things I don’t care about. They’re actively harmful to my experience on the site. The human eye is drawn to movement and so while I’d be trying to focus on reading a page, the videos would play or pictures would shift, and every time it happened, my concentration was broken for a moment as my gaze shifted to the thing. Not to mention the sheer visual clutter for most pages.

Compare that to the clean, quiet space created by an ad block and you’ll see why, regardless of feeling bad about using it, I was in a hurry to go back.

I don’t have a solution to the problem. It’s just something that I’m thinking about right now.

And for what it’s worth, I pay WordPress a small fee each year to keep ads off my site, so you’ll have an ad free experience here regardless if you use ad block or not. But I’m also a hobbyist blogger who doesn’t depend on the success of this site to eat, so it’s hardly a fair comparison.

Police Ride Along

It was the spring of my senior year of high school when the editor-in-chief of my journalism class came to me and said, “Matt, I have a great idea for a feature piece and I want you to do it.” I said, “yeah, okay, sure,” because I liked doing features and because I tend to agree to things before asking what they are, which is just a really terrible way to go through life. Also, I was an eighteen-year-old boy and she was a cute girl and you can imagine why I was eager to impress her with my aggressively agreeable nature and my fearlessness and such.

The feature piece that I wrote was based on a police ride along. It’s exactly what it sounds like: you ride along with a police officer for an entire shift. As far as I know, most police departments will do this as a sort of outreach program for citizens who want to see what the policing process looks like. Or maybe they just want to get their fix by hanging out with the real cops for a while. There are as many stories online of good ride alongs as there are terrible ones.

After signing all sorts of liability waivers and such, I did my ride along. What surprised me the most was how extensive my participation was. My instructions were to stay in the car only during traffic stops; otherwise, every where my officer went, I also went. That meant going into a house during a domestic violence call and into the hospital to interview someone who’d been shot. It’s a front row seat and yes, it really did feel like I was living out my own episode of Cops.

I did my ride along, wrote my feature piece for the school newsmagazine, received some attention and accolades, and then went on to not have a career in journalism. But I always kept that experience in the back of my mind as something that I’d like to repeat one day in the future.

My brother Chris joined the Tucson Police Department about a year ago. When I was in Tucson last month for his wedding, he suggested that I do a ride along with him. He’d taken his then-fiance Haley on one a few weeks before. He’d heard me talk about my previous experiences doing a ride along and was interested to see what my take would be; also, I think he was secretly hopeful that I’d write the post I’m writing now so that he could read about himself. Hi Chris!

Anyway. Here is my report of my day as an official groupie for an officer of the Tucson Police Department, recreated from my notes that I took. All times will be expressed in standard time rather than military time, because I’m a civilian and I don’t want to do the mental math about what 1500 actually refers to (okay, it’s 3:00 PM, but still).

6:00 AM: We arrived at the substation. I felt sick from something (maybe last night’s dinner?) and spent about half an hour in the bathroom, which meant I missed the mission briefing. I was worried I’d be too nauseated to do the ride along but I decided to tough it out as long as I could. Fortunately, after some quality time worshipping the porcelain throne, as they say, I felt better and decided to roll with it. I’m only including this detail because if I don’t, I’m sure Chris will point it out in the comments.

7:00 AM: Chris started his patrol. TPD is phasing out the venerable Crown Victoria interceptor and moving to the larger, fancier, more luxurious Tahoe, but since Officer Chris is still a rookie, he’s stuck with one of the Crown Vics. I tried not to think about the fact that when I did my previous ride along, the black-and-white Crown Victorias were brand new models that were just starting their service because thinking about such things would only encourage maudlin reflections on the fleeting nature of my temporal existence and the brevity of mortality. Oh, shit, there I go.

Anyway, Chris’s patrol car has working air conditioning. His megaphone does not work. Only some of the emergency lights work. The trunk is filled with all the things you’d expect: rubber gloves, traffic cones, vest, shotgun. It’s not as organized as movies and television would suggest.

Yeah, it didn’t look like this. Sadly.

For privacy reasons, I won’t specify where exactly Chris patrols, but I’ll specify this much: it’s not a very good part of Tucson. We started off the day by checking a few abandoned houses that were popular among the “crack house aficionado and illegal squatter” crowd. When we rolled up to the first house, I was relieved to see another officer, Bri, had joined us. But I was still nervous, not because I’d never done a ride along before, but because this was my little brother and even though I’d seen him put on the uniform and he was wearing the gun and the badge and we were riding in an actual goddamn patrol car, even with all of that . . . it still didn’t feel real to me that this was my little brother. My kid bro.

We went to the side door. Chris told me to stay outside while they cleared the building. As the only person not carrying a gun or wearing body armor, that sounded fine with me.

Chris and his partner went to the door, drew their guns, held them at their sides. Goddamn, I thought. It really does look like the movies.

“Tucson Police!” Chris barked with the kind of authority I would not have associated with my little brother. He and his partner swept through the building and cleared it. Fortunately (or unfortunately, I guess, depending on your perspective), nobody was home, although there was plenty of evidence that yes, this is a bona fide crack house.

“Be careful where you step,” Chris said. “Also, I wouldn’t touch anything if I were you.”

I looked over at the pile of used hypodermic needles, double checked where I was standing, and decided that I would burn my shoes once we were done. With no customers at house, it was on to the next establishment, though not before Chris and Bri moved a few pieces of detritus around in front of the door, just to see if they’d get moved to verify that there were indeed fish in this illicit little fishing hole.

We rolled up to another house and repeated the process, but once again, despite all the evidence of recent activity, nobody was home.

As I stood outside and looked around, I reflected on the fact that these neighborhoods really weren’t all that far from where I’d been living at various points in my life. They looked . . . normal. Tucson is weird like that. Although people will say, “well, the south side is the bad side of town,” it’s actually more complicated than that. There are little pockets of urban blight and decay all over the place, and often, the same road can get better or worse depending on how far you travel down it. Sadly, at least in my opinion, it seems like the rotten spots are getting worse and they’re getting bigger. But that’s a thought for another post.

7:30 AM: I knew that at some point, we’d have to do traffic. But what’s interesting is that traffic isn’t assigned to any particular time or location; the officer uses his or her discretion to decide when to set up a traffic stop. At first, I thought this was somewhat petty, just a bit of that quota-filling ticket writing that everyone complains about. That was until I noticed where we’d set up shop to watch for traffic: we parked near an intersection that has no less than five signs and five sets of red arrows, all of which are telling the driver that right turns on red are illegal. Why, you might ask? Because the cross walk leads directly to the School for the Deaf and Blind. Huh. I wonder why they don’t allow people to turn on a red there.

Waiting for somewhat to break the law is pretty boring, but it also gave me some insight into the cop mind. After we’d been there for a while, in frustration, Chris exclaimed “someone break the law already!” At first, I thought this was counter-intuitive; a lack of violators means that people are following the law which means society is better as a result. However, after you’ve sat still for a long period of time, watching the same traffic signal with the intensity of a circling hawk, eventually you need a rabbit or you start to go crazy. I think I cracked from the boredom after about thirty minutes. I reflected on the fact that Chris comes to this intersection or others like it at least four times a week. Pretty soon I was desperate for someone to run the light just so there was something to do.

Eventually, a guy did turn and we did pull him over. I waited in the car while Chris did the usual license and registration thing. The guy didn’t speak a whole lot of English but Chris was able to get him to understand why you really don’t want to make an illegal turn around deaf and/or blind children. You know. Chris asked me what I thought we should do; I voted for a warning, because I’m a liberal and liberals are soft on crime.

8:05 AM: We received a call about a wounded cat, possibly dead already, on the side of the road.

8:07 AM: We listened to gangsta rap on the way over.

Cuz in the city of angels, it’s all about survival, 

Fuck the 5-0, they wanna see you DOA,

Welcome to L. A.

I guess even cops like to sing about cops killing people. Ironic, that.

8:16 AM: Here are my notes from this call. “Found two dead cats, one was actually a rabbit.” Really, what else can you say? The police officer’s lot is a glamorous one.

8:34 AM: It was turning out to be a slow morning. We checked behind a few grocery stores, just fishing for people doing things they aren’t supposed to be doing. Behind a Safeway, we found a dumpster diver. Chris asked the nearby Safeway staff members who were unloading boxes if they wanted the guy removed from their property, but the manager said the guy wasn’t bothering them, so they didn’t care. Chris spoke with the guy anyway and let him know why it’s not a good idea to be climbing into dumpsters if you can avoid it.

What impressed me the most is how Chris handled the discussion. Earlier, I’d watched him go into a house with a gun drawn and an aura of authority. Now he’s talking to this homeless dude like they’re best friends, just having a chat, even asking him if he’ll turn over his knife to Chris while they talk, just for everyone’s safety. It was an impressive display of diplomacy.

Since the Safeway staff didn’t have an issue with the guy being there and he wasn’t bothering anyone else, Chris let him go on his way. We talked about that after we pulled out of the parking lot, of the importance of trying to establish a good presence with people on the street. Chris told me about his hopes. “These homeless guys, they have a lot of interaction with us,” he said. “We see the same guys a lot. I just hope that if a guy like this has some good experiences with cops, not getting busted for minor stuff, maybe that’ll make a difference and help the guy trust us more when something more serious happens.”

We also talked about the importance of diplomacy. “I still get nervous when I’m driving and I see a cop behind me,” Chris said. “I’m like, fuck, it’s cops.” I pointed out that he’s also the cops. He laughed.

9:06 AM: We received a call about a possible trespasser at a different Safeway. This was the most promising call all morning; Chris said he was really hoping he’d get at least one arrest today so he could show me jail. Being something of a square, I’ve never had an opportunity to see jail before. I’ll touch more on that point in a bit.

9:10 AM: We rolled up to the Safeway and found a homeless guy staggering outside the grocery story with a half-empty bottle of Tequila in his hand. In my expert opinion, he was heavily intoxicated. When Chris attempted to talk to him, he attempted to hide the bottle of Tequila in his pants. This did not prove to be a sound strategy.

Two other officers arrived (like I said, it was a slow morning and cops get bored too) to assess the situation. Based on interviews with the staff, the suspect was actually in the nearby Subway restaurant and it was they who’d called the police, evidently because they take it seriously over there about the whole “you’re not allowed to drink in a Subway” and “you shouldn’t drunkenly threaten the staff of a Subway when they tell you to get the fuck out.”

The Subway manager decided to press charges, which meant that our suspect was getting arrested. Hooray! We have a reason to visit jail. Wait.

Here’s the really fun part. After you arrest someone, you have to search them. That means checking all their pockets, searching through all their clothes. This homeless dude was ripe, and I do mean ripe, in the worst possible sense. I stood several feet away and moved whenever the wind shifted. Chris wasn’t so lucky. As the rookie on the call and as the arresting officer, he got to do the honors. Including checking the man’s shoes.

I will give my brother credit. He did not vomit, although I could tell from my safe distance that he sorely wanted to.

The suspect also developed a conversation loop which consisted of asking “where are we going?”, “why am I arrested?”, “what the charges?” and “where am I going?” It ended up being a long ride to the jail.

10:00 AM: As we were pulling out of the Safeway parking lot, a call came in about possible gang activity at a nearby apartment complex. We weren’t able to respond since we had a human being cuffed in the backseat of our car. The report was that several people had been brandishing weapons and threatening some guy. Chris said that the call was probably bullshit, but several more reports came in and his expression changed. “Maybe it’s not bullshit,” he said. “Damn! That would be an interesting one.” Fortunately (or unfortunately, again), the call turned out to be bullshit; there was no gun battle in an apartment complex and the guy who called was a known factor with a history of mental illness and paranoia. Fun times. Regardless, it was off to jail for us!

10:05 AM: We arrived at the jail and began processing the suspect. It was pretty empty that morning, so we mostly had the place to ourselves as Chris led his arrestee into the processing room and I followed behind. A sense of dread began to build up in me as we went through the security doors and they locked behind us. I couldn’t help but imagine what it would feel like if the circumstances were different and I was here for a different reason, not as an observer alongside my brother, but as a prisoner. Needless to say, the claustrophobia was sudden and strong, although I didn’t make a big deal about it.

Booking took a while, although when Chris saw my notes later, he pointed out that it actually went pretty quickly for jail since we were the only ones there aside from a few guys who were also getting booked Our suspect asked several times if he could sleep; Chris said sure. The suspect asked for a bed. I guess they don’t bring you a bed when you’re in the intake area.

I know now that, God forbid, if I’m ever arrested, I will not go into such a place with dignity and with my head held high. I will likely be sobbing and crying for my mother and apologizing profusely. Jail is really scary.

10:55 AM: Chris had some paperwork that he needed to get caught up on and since it was slow, we drove out to “Chris’s Special Hidden Paperwork Writing Spot.” What makes for a special paperwork writing spot? Well, it needs to be somewhere that’s out-of-the-way so people won’t easily approach you while you’re parked and focusing on your laptop screen. It needs to be close enough to your patrol area so you can respond to calls quickly. And it needs to be quiet so you can focus on your work. I will not reveal the location of Chris’s paperwork spot. He did say that he has several such spots and that he particularly likes cemeteries and churches because they’re quiet most of the time.

11:10 AM: Chris writes a report while I play with my smart phone.

11:20 AM: The report has been written! Paperwork is part of every officer’s life but by getting it out-of-the-way now, he won’t have to take care of it later when his shift is over, which means he can go home more quickly. This makes sense to me.

11:44 AM: We got a call about a fight breaking out a Home Depot. Since there was an immediate personal risk, this call was severe enough to warrant going “code 3,” which means flipping on the lights and sirens. This is exactly as terrifying and exhilarating as you imagine it is. There’s something about those sounds that just make one’s jaws torque and one’s soul to say, “fuck yes, let’s go help some people.”

After searching several neighborhoods with several other officers, Chris and a sergeant learned of the suspect’s location from a witness. Unfortunately, Home Depot informed TPD that they did not want to press charges against the suspect, since it was learned that basically he’d tried to steal twenty dollars worth of paint and then gotten into a fight with a security guard about it. The sergeant made the decision that since Home Depot didn’t want to press charges, the police shouldn’t approach the suspect, since it would cause a huge public backlash if, say, the suspect started throwing rocks at them and ended up shot. Better just to avoid the potential shitstorm, since without charges, there was no reason to approach the guy.

12:00 PM: Lunch! We went to Chipotle, as one does. Interesting note: cops love Chipotle. I saw several other officers there, including a few detectives. We also met our dad there for lunch and talked about our day thus far.

12:30 PM: Back on patrol. Chris was energized again after a good lunch. “It’s going to be a good afternoon,” he said as we pulled back into his patrol sector. “We’re going to have a good call. I just know it.”

12:43 PM: We approached a particularly busy intersection. Right away, I noticed something was wrong; traffic was moving in a stilted, uncertain manner, like no one was sure whose turn it was. I looked up and saw that the traffic light had gone out. I turned my head and noticed it was out on the other road as well.

Beside me, Chris had gone very silent and very still.

“Chris,” I said, “I don’t think the traffic light is working.”

There was an expectant pause.

“Fuuuuuuuuuck,” Chris said finally.

He called it in. It was immediately assigned to him, because, surprise, he was already on the scene!

We pulled over to the side of the road. He grabbed a bright orange safety vest. I looked at him, wondering what I was going to do.

He looked at me. “Fuuuuuuuuck,” he said. And then he left.

Traffic lights are annoying, especially when they stop working. Suddenly, your travel is inconvenienced, perhaps even delayed. You might even have to wait for several minutes while shit sorts itself out. But then you’re through it and you’re on your way and you don’t think about it any more.

It is infinitely worse when you’re the poor bastard who has to walk out into the middle of one of the busiest intersections in the city in the broiling heat of a summer afternoon and you have to keep that shit moving until it gets fixed.

I waited him work for a while and I was impressed by the level of energy it takes to direct traffic. In my nerdy way, it actually reminded me of healing a raid in World of WarCraft; you have to establish a rhythm, a flow, and you have to keep an eye on each lane lest one buildup too much. After thirty minutes, however, I was tired of watching, so I sat in the air conditioning of the car and waited. And waited.

Another officer showed up to help.

Sometime later, a work crew showed up to fix the light.

We learned that it was a power failure and a Tucson Electric Power crew would have to fix the outage first.

I waited some more. Chris came over on a quick break and I gave him some of the cold water I had with me.

Finally, at 2:30, a relief crew of a few more officers showed up so Chris and his partner could take a proper break. They hadn’t even made it into the intersection before the lights came back on.

2:45 PM: We were on the move again. Chris told me that was the longest traffic direction he’d ever had to do. I decided not to complain as I was the one who’d had copious cold water and a somewhat functioning AC going during the whole thing.

2:55 PM: Irritated that the entire afternoon had been completely blown directing traffic, Chris was hopeful that we’d get at least one more call before his shift ended at 4:00pm. He noticed a panhandler and realized that it was a guy he’d already warned several times about not panhandling there. He’d even let the guy know that panhandling is only illegal in Tucson city limits (read: if you go outside of the city, it’s Pima County’s problem and they don’t give a shit).

Chris decided to have a little chat with the guy. But when he ran the guy’s info, he saw that there was a warrant out for the dude’s arrest. Fortunately, it allowed for a stop and arrest, so there wasn’t a need to take the guy to jail. Chris explained the situation, let him know that he’d have to appear in court in a few weeks, and told him to stop panhandling on his streets.

3:30 PM: We returned to the station. Chris unpacked his patrol car and tidied it up so that another officer could use it during his vacation (he was taking two weeks off for the wedding and the honeymoon). After that, I sat in on the debriefing, which is a fancy word for “sitting around talking about the day and shooting the breeze with your co-workers for a few minutes.” You know, like you do.

4:00 PM: We were off the clock and on our way home.

Epilogue: My brother started his career as a police officer with unfortunate timing; just as he was beginning, the scandals of police misconduct and brutality were erupting all over the country. It’s made an already difficult discussion about the nature of his work that much more difficult. It’s an unavoidable topic, but I have nothing more to say on that front.

What I will say is that I have a newfound understanding for certain aspects of the job. I get why “cop humor” is so far removed from the norm and so filled with the darkest of dark jokes. You have to be able to joke about what you see; if you don’t, it’ll swallow you whole.

I also understand how even a relatively benign day is still exhausting, mentally and physically. Because you don’t know what’s going to happen at any given moment. Your body is always primed for action, even if nothing happens. That shit takes its toll on you. It’s a hard job.

I reflected on whether or not it would be harder to be a cop or to be a soldier. Surely, it would be tougher to be a soldier, I thought. You’re far from home and you’re in a goddamned war. But I also think there’s something mentally and emotionally draining about doing a job like this in your own community, in your city, in your neighborhood. You get to see the ugly side of life and it’s shocking how close that side is to the surface. It’s always around us. We just have the fortune of not having to notice it most of the time. If something goes wrong, there’s always the chance that it could hit far too close to home. It could be his family or his friends that end up a victim of one the calls he answers. At least in the military, one knows that one’s loved ones are safe and sound at home. I imagine that has to be worth something.

He has a hard job. I’m glad I was able to see it, so that I could understand it as much as possible without actually taking up a badge myself. But no matter what we were doing throughout the day, I kept thinking about how much easier I had it than he did. If something went wrong, it was his responsibility, not mine. My safety was his responsibility. Everything was on his shoulders. I had only to observe and to stay out of his way.

That’s my little brother. That’s what he does now. I’m proud of him. And I’m worried for him. But most of all, I’m impressed by him. Because it’s tough as hell to do what he does and I don’t believe that I, a mere writer and all around dilettante, could do the same. That’s a sobering thing to realize.