Monthly Archives: April 2010

Growing Up Juju (part 4 in a series)

Juju was crouched behind a Sycamore tree, breathing heavy. The neighborhood kids were playing hide-n-seek and she liked to believe she excelled at the game. She had a game strategy of changing locations every 5 minutes or so….a moving target was harder to find she thought. Juju loved the game, hiding in the darkened spaces between the houses on Oak Street. Even at seven, she didn’t scare easy and could outlast the older kids that were looking for her…she was very competitive.

Even though it was about 9:30 p.m., the kids in the neighborhood were all playing outside on a hot night in July. At least they had a slight breeze and most of the time that was better than inside. Juju’s house did not have central air conditioning. Her parents had a small window unit in the living room and one in the master bedroom. Doors were left open throughout the house with the hope that the cool air would circulate, but that didn’t work out too well. Hot, sticky kids preferred to run around like little banshee outside rather than play G.I. Joe in their stifling rooms.

Juju had her two six-shooters in her holster, loaded with red caps. She was going to scare the heck out of anyone that came close to her hiding spot. Her older sister Junene was crafty and sometimes she got the other kids to just stop looking for Juju…to stop playing the game. One night Juju had hidden in the bushes at the Swenson’s house next door for an entire hour before she figured out the joke was on her. She was ready for that this time…having positioned herself where she could see her sister sitting on the front porch of their house. Not this time she thought…the joke is going to be on someone else, as she cocked one her pistols and eagerly awaited her hunter.

Juju’s mother opened up the front door of her house and yelled for her to come inside quickly! What? And spoil my great ambush? Juju heard her sister respond to their mother, “it is not 10pm yet!”
“I don’t care!” came the reply from their mother…”get in this house this instant, history is happening!!”
It was July 20, 1969 and Neil Armstrong was opening the hatch door of the Apollo 11 capsule. Juju holstered the pistol and begrudgingly ran next door to her shouting mother, the ambush would have to wait until tomorrow night’s game.

Juju and Junene took their usual places, laying on pillows on the green sculptured carpet of their living room floor. Juju’s parents were in their appointed chairs, already watching the grainy black and white images from so far away in space, none of them could comprehend the distance. Chairs and a place to sit in a large family were scarce in the household. Juju’s family had a “rule of the house” that had solved the problem years before. If your rear-end was in a seat and you wanted to leave the room to say…go to the restroom…and you wanted that seat back when you returned…the rule applied. The person had to shout the word “cabbage” before their rear-end lifted off the seat..not after…and only then was that seat secured until their return. Juju knew and loved rules early on…she loved structure. She also knew that all rules generally have exceptions. The Cabbage Rule had one exception…Juju’s parents could have any seat they wanted at any moment. It was a good rule.

Juju layed there on the carpet with her eyes glued to the TV console. “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Juju’s mother explained what that meant as they watched Armstrong’s feet hit the lunar surface. “Pay attention and watch this and you will remember it the rest of your life,” her mother said. Juju secretly wished she was watching the Carol Burnett Show, but this seemed important to everyone, so she watched intently. After a while when the news reporters were talking back and forth Juju stood up and begged for 30 more minutes outside until bedtime. Juju’s older sister Joan yelled “cabbage!” and got up to go get a drink out of the fridge. Her father barked for everyone to settle down or get out…Juju took that as her cue and ran back out the front door to the steps of the porch.

Sitting her bottle of Coke down beside her on the stoop, Juju looked upward. There it was in all it’s glory…a full moon. The moon was lighting up her block so brightly that night that Juju could see her neighbors Robbie and Rita and their kids standing in their front yard. They were lighting sparklers and waving them around along with miniature American flags. This was kind of like the 4th of July a couple of weeks ago Juju thought. She squinted her eyes and tried with all her might to see any movement or humans on the face of the moon.

Juju didn’t see Neil Armstrong, but she thought that she could see the face of Jackie Gleason across the full white expanse of the moon’s surface. Straight to the Moon Alice!, she yelled. At that moment the back door of her father’s Cadillac opened up and out popped Dennis, a kid from up the block. “Is the game over,” he asked? Juju started to laugh uproariously and danced about the yard…she fired an entire box of caps into the sky on that long ago July night.

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One Round

The sound of the gunshot was so close with the whizzing noise past my head, it was hard to distinguish the two. A 9mm round traveling at about 900 feet per second blurred my perception. I looked to my right and saw the hole in the wall and then to my left and saw the exit hole out the front door of the police department. I was frozen in my tracks as I noticed the holes were about 6 foot from the ground, the same height as my head…the round had missed me by less than 6 inches.

Shift change briefing had occurred in the room next to where I was standing. Most of the officers had left the building to start patrol, but two remained. One was a grizzled veteran, a field training officer…the other man was a young rookie, 2 weeks out of the academy. I stood in silence and heard nothing from the adjoining room. I was half in shock, but half expecting to hear screams of pain, or a body drop…I heard neither. The two men were stunned as well…not wanting to exit the room and find the path of the one round fired. It was as pregnant a pause as I have ever experienced…then I was hit with a jolt of anger.

I turned the corner and hit the briefing room. I saw the two men standing as still as two statues…they looked incredulously in my direction. What the hell, I asked?? That almost hit my frigging head!! Some color returned to the rookie’s face as he profusely apologized to me. They had both been aware that I was standing in the front foyer of the department and had been sure that the round had hit me. Needless to say they were massively relieved that I now stood before them spouting a profanity laced diatribe like they had never heard before!

The training officer had asked the rookie to unload his pistol. They were training on tactical maneuvers to disarm a suspect. The rookie had removed the pistol’s clip, but had neglected to clear the round that was racked in and ready to go. The training officer had neglected to double-check the weapon before they began the exercise. It was very nearly a deadly training mistake. It was very close to being the last day on earth for me.

Both officers were spared termination, but received days off without pay and additional safety training. I didn’t want them fired…but the department would have been justified in letting them both go. Officer safety is your number one duty on the job…they had failed miserably on that particular day. The rookie in question worked the streets for several years before his life ended in a very tragic way. He was despondent over a lost love and fired that very same gun…one round into his head, killing himself.

One round can alter multiple lives and do it rather quickly. I tell this story today because I am grieving over a teenager that I did not know. Last week a 17-year-old honor student and member of his school’s orchestra drove home for lunch with his sister. They walked into their own home here in Fort Worth and interrupted a burglary. The sister ran out the back door as she heard just one round fired. Her brother was shot in the head and died the next day. A life senselessly snuffed out for 3 lap top computers….probably yielding a hundred bucks on the street or at a pawn shop. Life is cheap.

The young man’s funeral was today…he is no more….because of one round. This is not a blog about gun control. I am not against guns, I have a loaded one in my house ready to go as I write this. This is a blog about the time it takes for a small piece of metal traveling at 900 feet per second to enter a person’s body and end their life. That is quicker than you can snap your fingers. Think about how fragile an entity you are as you try to wrap yourself around that speed.

Ever look at a house fly that is bugging the crap out of you…just look at its carefree little life. He is oblivious to the fact that you are standing there with a rolled up newspaper in your hand….ready to snuff him out. That is exactly how precarious our life is too…that is the way I see it. We go about our daily lives not noticing the forces at work around us. We wouldn’t notice the rolled up newspaper either and I guess that is for the best.

Go out and live your life today for those that can’t…like that young broken-hearted rookie….or that outstanding young man who just wanted to have lunch with his sister. Accept the fragility of life and relish in it. You have one round here on earth…no one has ever proven any differently. One round to make your mark and experience the ups and downs of a life. That teenage boy will never get to marry his true love, father children, travel, or play the cello ever again. He did though have a great effect on his fellow students and friends. He was an Eagle Scout and was well respected by all who met him. He was loved by his family and his fellow church members. He did community service and was planning a religious mission.

The rookie and the teenager shared the first name of Eric. I honor their lives today, both left us much too soon. Whether measured in a micro-second or in 17 years, one round can make a difference.

Responsibility Rehab

No, I don’t think rehabilitation centers are stupid. They are needed in certain situations, I just think things have gotten out of hand. Screw around on your wife with fourteen other women? You must be a sex addict. Answer: Rehab. Get drunk in public, run naked down the Sunset Strip? Rehab. Cause a disturbance on an airplane because your hand towel in first class wasn’t hot enough? Rehab. I have a plan to make me some money. I am going to open up a new center, a Responsibility Rehab. Evidently people today were not raised to accept responsibility for their own actions. I am the woman to teach them. Why? Well, I am a baby boomer raised right by good parents. This is what all of these people seem to be missing, so we need to go back and start from scratch again….and we will do it at Responsibility Rehab….for 30k a month.

Patients will be called “kids” and will be assigned to a different house on the property. The “counselors” will be called Mom and Dad and they will oversee four kids per house.
The treatment plan will be simple. Mom and Dad will treat the kids as I was treated growing up… like many of my generational brothers and sisters. There will be immediate consequences for failure to abide by the program. The kids will be held accountable for their own actions…they will be punished for misdeeds, but also praised and shown love for good behavior. Mom will constantly shout things at each kid as thoughtful statements of encouragement, for example:
1. shut that door, what were you raised in a barn?
2. eat that food, kids are starving in China!
3. do you want me to give you something to cry about?

If a kid is found with alcohol, cigarettes, or gawd forbid, drugs in the house…the Mom will chase them with a fly-swatter and beat their behind until they have grill marks on their ass. Lesser infractions will be handled with work assignments like dusting furniture, washing dishes and scrubbing toilets. No sex will be tolerated in the house…not even between Mom and Dad.

There will be one telephone land-line, no cell phones, computers or iPods in the house. The land-line will be on a telephone stand in the hall with a very short cord. The person using the phone will have to stand near it or sit on the floor while using it in short conversations…it will be rotary dial, of course. There will be one TV per house with four channels….3 local and PBS. Each house’s Dad will select the TV programming to be watched every night…expect a heavy rotation of re-runs of westerns and Lawrence Welk. The city newspaper will be delivered to the front porch of each house by 3pm each day by a guy named Pete.

Food will only be eaten in the kitchen or dining room. Dinner will be served at 6pm and all six members of the house shall be seated and ready. The inhabitants of the house will engage in a conversation at dinner and genuinely act interested in what the other parties have to say. Everyone will contribute in clean up after each meal and express thankfulness for the food.

Men will be educated on how to properly show respect to women…how to talk to them, interact with them. Women will be taught how to love and respect themselves…to know that anything is possible with their life if they work hard. Education and goal setting will be drilled into the kids minds every day. Self-improvement will be a topic of discussion most days….that and community service. The kids will be taught to look for ways to help others…..to treat others as they themselves would like to be treated.

Gay kids will not be treated any differently than straight kids. Diversity will be welcome and each kid will be honored for the individual they are….the house will be color-blind.
If the kids are bored after their study time in the evenings, they can go out in the yard and play touch football….or four square. The kids in one house will meet and interact with kids in the other houses. Dad will call the kids back into the house every night promptly at 10pm for bedtime.

No kid will be able to buy anything on credit. If you don’t have the money to pay for something in your pocket or in the bank….you can’t have it…period. No profanity or urban street language will be tolerated. Kids will address elders using Sir or Ma’am only.
No pants hanging down to your knees will be tolerated….Mom will tell you to pull up your pants just once…then she will start counting. If a Mom gets to THREE…she will commence chasing you around the house again with the dreaded fly-swatter. Special Note: the fly-swatter is a 60s model with a wire mesh, not plastic.

At the end of 28 days, each kid will be released into the general population that is our society. Hopefully they will have learned something and will change their ways. If they have a relapse the following steps will be taken. First, Mom will call them every day and nag them into acting correctly again. If step one doesn’t take care of it,…she will write a letter explaining that you were raised better than how you are acting. Finally, if all else fails….the “family” will initiate a loving intervention…that hopefully works. A remedial trip back to the family home may be necessary after these steps are taken…but most kids will do anything to avoid this from happening.

A return trip to Responsibility Rehab will include boring trips to a senior counsel’s house…or “grand-ma” as we like to call her. Each trip will include six hour lectures on being a good citizen….broken up by meals with over-seasoned food and massaging gma’s aching feet. For recreation the kid is allowed to mow grand-ma’s yard or attend a church bingo session with her. After 28 days of lectures, bad food, and smelling like moth-balls…most kids are rehabilitated.

So the next time you see an adult acting like an idiot on Entertainment Tonight or TMZ….pass the word about my idea. I have a feeling this thing could be a cash cow…true job security for me and my group of “family” members. Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you the motto of Responsibility Rehab, “Don’t make me start counting!”

Five Minutes

The recruits ran with six rows of three for three miles at a time. This was after an hour of weight training, where we had to run in place while waiting for the next piece of equipment to be open. They stuck me pretty much in the middle of the class when we ran, at my request. I needed the guys behind my ass pushing me to go faster…and the momentum of the guys in front pulling me forward. It is much easier to run distances in a group, there is a reason why the military and police academies use the method, plus it builds camaraderie. Move your ass Billhymer! Okay, okay….I am going as fast as I can, I barked back. We were seventeen men and one woman…and we broke into the same song every day as we ran….I Feel Good by James Brown. The class drill instructor was threatening another mile if we didn’t pick up the speed. I was going to be a full-fledged cop in a couple of months, he could do whatever he wanted to do to me at that point. “How do you feel Billhymer?” came the yell. I feel good Drill Sergeant!

There were women in law enforcement in the late eighties, but nothing like the numbers you see today. I knew that I would have to jump in head-first at the police academy. I knew that I would have to go the extra mile if that is what it took….and I knew at one point I would have to knock one of the guys on his ass. I would have to garner the respect of my seventeen classmates by showing them that I could hold my own. Not only hold my own but also back them up when the shit hit the proverbial fan. I have always used the five-minute rule regarding aptitude to be an officer. The rule is simple…if you want to be a cop, regardless of gender, you have to maintain yourself for five minutes under ANY situation. Even if it is just rolling on the ground trying to keep someone from taking your own gun away from you. Whether under gun-fire, or fighting a lunatic on the side of the road, it’s five minutes usually until back-up arrives. If you failed in less than five minutes, you might be an injured or even dead officer.

After running everyday we would go back to the gym and practice arrest scenarios and hand to hand stuff. I was at the top of the class in academics. I was very good at the gun range and in handling scenarios where we dealt with people…live actors the academy brought in for help. The physical agility obstacle course and the running were very difficult for me though, but I gutted it out. I passed every timed performance test in the end…nothing was stopping me from being a cop, except one thing….hand to hand combat. That darn five minutes. Even though I was 5’11” tall and had size…it sure as hell wasn’t muscle! Let’s face it, men are stronger and faster in most cases. Technique was going to be key…the skinniest man in the class could bench press 4o more pounds than I could! He was not my target though, I was plotting to fight the biggest guy in the class. I needed to know if I had what it took to hit the streets. It was more than a woman versus man thing, my darn life was on the line. I needed to know that I had five minutes in me.

Taking someone down and handcuffing them was a vital part of my new job description. Generally people don’t like to go to jail, so you are trained to expect resistance. We were taught a handcuffing technique known as Aikido. This method enables someone to put themselves in a position to take anyone down, regardless of size or gender. It leveled the playing field when done correctly and I knew I had to get good at it. (YouTube it if you are curious or bored)

The problem with using the Aikido method on my male classmates was that they knew the moves too and had defensive measures to counter with. I was going to have to be clinically great with the method and maybe just a little dirty in my assigned fights. There are no rules on the street…there were very few when the whistle blew at the academy. We practiced technique and listened to instructions for about a week, then we were told the next day would be “full on” fighting. We would have to show we could fight for five minutes and then get a suspect under control….cuff and stuff him. Graduation from the academy after 4 months was soon thereafter….I would have to succeed or fail to make the cut.

We had a couple of pretty big guys in my class, but Alan was by far the biggest. He had been a college football lineman, he stood 6’4″ tall and weighed about 240…all muscle. I prearranged with the Drill Sergeant to get paired with Alan….he looked at me like I was suicidal when I whispered my request to him. The Sergeant yelled out the days pairings…there were whoops and hollers when my name was called out with the big guy. For months we had wrestled around on the mats, and learned the handcuffing technique for just about any scenario. I felt ready.

The first part of the test was demonstrating the handcuffing procedures on your paired partner. We both did well and sailed on to the last test….the fight…the five minutes I had dreaded for some time. We got into the protective padding…something we wouldn’t have on the street, and prepared for battle. Alan walked over and whispered in my ear…”don’t worry, I am not going to try and hurt you.”

I pushed him back away from me and kicked him in the groin as hard as I could with my right foot. Now mind you, there was padding in all the right places, but the kick still sent him to the ground. My point was taken as Alan then looked at me like he was going to rip my head off! The rest of the class was laughing, jumping up and down….yelling for more! I jumped on Alan before he was on his feet again and the fight was on…a legitimate fight. We rolled around on the floor and I did everything I could to prevent him from ever getting back on his feet again. Men like to fight upright with fists and punches…women tend to avoid the fight rules…anything counts.

Alan hit me several times in the head…and even with a padded helmet I felt stunned…but I kept him rolling around the floor. I locked my legs around his and held on for dear life! It seemed like an eternity, but the five minute whistle went off…we both rolled on our backs in total exhaustion. I had done it…I had survived for five minutes with as big a guy as I would ever face on the street. And…I knew he had given it his all….I felt beat up and happy.

After the class that day, Alan approached me and we chatted. He apologized about the remark before the fight, he said he realized that it was not what I needed to hear. Not what I needed to be a good cop. He said he have never fought a woman before….that he thought we played rough! I told him a woman will do whatever it takes against a man…he better be prepared for that on the street as well. Valuable lessons had been learned that day.

Five minutes doesn’t seem like a long time, it has taken me longer than that to write this blog. But engaging another person with your body and using every ounce of strength you have is totally exhausting. Adrenalin helps, but technique and training is what it is all about….that and a properly placed foot. In my entire law enforcement career I never fought a man as big as Alan again. He did call me once and laughed telling me that every drunk or doped up woman he had fought had tried to kick him in the crotch! Alan told me he always thought of me during those fights. It’s nice to know there is at least one man out there that thinks of me and his crotch in the same moment…even if it is only for five minutes.

Did You Say Pickaxe?

The call came in at about 12:30am one early Sunday morning. It was a domestic violence call, about the most dangerous call for service a cop gets…and you usually got about 3-4 a week. This one was interesting because the woman was running around the outside of her house as her crazed husband chased her in circles. That wasn’t the interesting part though, the part that had her screaming on 911 and the detail that made it memorable was what the husband was carrying in his hands. “My husband is chasing me with a pickaxe!” “Help!” she screamed to the dispatcher.

Did you say pickaxe? I asked the dispatcher. Yes, that’s what she said, came the response. I was given the address that was out on a very dark farm road. I was told to look for the junkyard, that the chase was around the house that sat beside it. My back-up that night was my buddy Dave, who was also speeding his way to the location. We both got to the scene about the same time and parked the squad cars at the end of a long dirt driveway. The woman was still screaming, but this time it was directed at us and she pointed to the junkyard. It seems the husband had observed us driving up and had run off into the darkness. The junkyard was situated on about 10 acres, the man owned the property. The junk cars were in fairly structured rows and seemed to go on forever. The pickaxe wielding maniac definitely had the upper hand at the moment. He was lurking in the darkness of a piece of property he knew well…he had the element of surprise. Dave and I set out to walk the property, weapons drawn.

We walked down the rows of the junkyard positioning ourselves so that a pickaxe didn’t wind up in our backs…covering each other’s weak side. In the distance we could hear a loud, repetitive sound…a banging on metal. The maniac was going down a row and burying the pickaxe in the hood of each car he passed. Hmmm, a dumb and/or drunk maniac, it was getting better for us. We followed the sound and were relieved that we now knew he was definitely in front of us. Dave called out, “Police, come on now, no one gets hurt. Put down the weapon.” Then out of the darkness came the response, “I am not going to jail mother-fuckers!” Game on, I thought…we slowly walked farther into the darkness. How far could a guy throw an ax, I wondered? We knew we were okay as long as we heard the steady beat of that ax pounding the junk vehicles. The dispatcher came over the radio for a “status check”…they were trained to do that on dangerous calls every five minutes. I requested that the radio channel go silent and to leave it open for our traffic only…just in case.

It was pitch black, can’t see your hand in front of your face black. We had flashlights of course, but didn’t want to illuminate a nice target for the maniac. The banging from car to car stopped….total silence. We walked on towards the last sound we had heard…crossing over two rows. We still could see nothing, so we stood there in the darkness. It was time for us to go fish.

“You really know how to treat a woman,” I yelled out…”really great chasing your wife around with an ax, tough guy!” After about 15 seconds came a shout from about 20 feet in front of us, “that bitch has drove me crazy, she is lucky I couldn’t catch her!” Dave and I were now pretty sure of his location and separated to circle around to him from two different directions. I got close enough to actually smell the maniac before I could see him. He smelled of beer and that panic-type sweat most drunks reeked of when you put them in the back of your patrol car. The maniac heard my last step and turned quickly, the pickaxe was suddenly raised….my weapon was already trained on his center body-mass.

The maniac next felt the metal of Dave’s pistol up against the back of his head. Very softly Dave said, “drop the weapon asshole.” The maniac let the ax fall to the ground and we quickly handcuffed him. Dave led our prisoner back to his squad car and I followed carrying the pickaxe.

The next day, five minutes after the bond was set by our Judge, a cash bond was posted and the maniac was released. The husband and wife drove off in a beat up pick-up truck, back to their home at the junkyard.

That same Sunday, back again to start our shift at 11pm, Dave and I got into our squad cars. I had driven about a mile when the dispatcher called out, “221?” 221 go ahead. Be en route to a domestic, woman says her husband is drunk and…