Black And Blue

Wow, so it’s been a whole year since I last posted here, huh. I guess time really does fly.

It’s been an interesting time.

I bought a bicycle, mostly at the behest of my father who wouldn’t shut the hell up about it. “Get a bike, son, they’re great. You won’t regret it”. He was mostly right. It’s fast become my favourite possession – doubly so when considering that I don’t have a driver’s licence or vehicle yet, so it’s been a real boon in getting me out of the house more and having to walk everywhere.

That’s not what the main thrust of this post is going to be about, although I could write a book on this six months of cycling and the amount of enjoyment I’ve received from that.

Instead, this is a post about me maybe becoming a police officer.

My small, sleepy north Texas town holds what is called a citizens police academy once a year. It’s a two month course where we get to see the ins and outs of the police department, examine their policies and procedures, and see what it’s like to actually be a cop in this day and age. I’d seen it in the paper the last couple of years at least and always thought it sounded interesting, but never did anything about it. This year I saw the flier again, filled in the form, then sat on it until half an hour before the deadline, going back and forth over doing it. It sounded like something I would enjoy, but it’s substantially out of my comfort zone when it comes to associating with new people I don’t know in an unfamiliar setting.

Well, I managed to talk myself into it, and emailed the application to the police sergeant who is running it, and got a reply saying I was accepted the following day. I’m very glad I did so.

I have enjoyed it tremendously. One side bonus is that we are encouraged to do civilian ride-alongs with a patrol officer. I didn’t even know that was going to be a thing, but it’s been an absolute blast both times I’ve done it so far. The first time I stayed to the end of the shift (6am!) because it was so fun. I learned a great deal about what police officers can do, what they can’t do, what they’re looking for when just cruising around town, etc.

Back when I was living in the UK, a career in the police service was something I was strongly considering. Were it not for the fact that I fell for a cute American girl then I think there’s a good chance that’s where I would have wound up. Since I moved to the US I hadn’t really thought that in a long time though. Now, doing this course, it’s become like an itch I can’t scratch. We had a CID detective give the class last week, and he invited us to come tour the department whenever we wanted if we were interested. The next day I texted him asking if is was ok to come look, and he invited me down. I spent the next two hours going over all of their evidence room, procedures, how they make crime reports, the databases they use, and tons of other stuff. The detective was only too happy, it seemed, to have someone to show all of this to, and I was happy to oblige him as I soaked it all up like a sponge.

I’ve already had an informal discussion with the sergeant running the class about what it would take to join. He is clearly someone who got into policing for the right reasons. He cares about his community, and is not one of those cops you see on the news and wonder how the hell they ever got a badge.

Right now there are two big stumbling blocks.

First, you need to be a US citizen in most states to become a police officer, and this is true in Texas because why wouldn’t it be. I can join the armed forces as a permanent resident just fine, but police? Nope, that’s clearly just a bridge too far. Regardless, the law is the law. I’m not eligible to file for US citizenship until January 2018, and the earliest it could be granted would be April 2018. I can perhaps try and expedite my application on the basis of needing it to join the police academy; that might or might not fly with USCIS, but I figure the worst they can say is no.

The other issue is my hearing. I forget whether I’ve written about this before here, but I am partially deaf in my left ear. I was born with a perforated eardrum, and whilst I had some surgeries in the UK as an infant to try and correct it, it mostly didn’t work. Hearing in my right ear is fine, and hell, has probably sharpened up over the years in order to try and compensate for lefty dropping the ball. Or maybe that’s just a myth. Anyway, I asked the sergeant directly if this would be an issue, and he said not for them. So provided the academy would take me, it wouldn’t be a problem for me to be employed as a police officer here.

I’m really, really considering it. Right now it’s all I can think about on most days. How it would finally give my life focus after the drifting I’ve felt I’m doing these past few years. How I could actually make a difference and directly contribute positively in some people’s lives.

But then there’s the downside of what if something happened to me? My wife is gone, and our two children rely on me. My son is almost 18 so he’s mostly ready to fly solo, but our daughter is 13, so she’s got a few years to go yet. Morally, should I put myself in a position to where it’s possible they are left without parents? This is a small north Texas town and there hasn’t been a police fatality here in decades, but it’s always a theoretical possibility in that line of work.

And of course, I actually have to go to the police academy and pass. It’s a five month full-time course, 5-6 days a week. I wouldn’t see my kids much, but my son would be 18 by then and would hopefully be ok with picking up the slack whilst I was occupied at school. I’d have to get a driver’s licence, since that’s a requirement too, along with US citizenship. And honestly, I’m getting tired of depending on others when it comes to needing a ride somewhere that I can’t do on a bike. The logistics are really annoying (I need a driver’s licence to get a car, but I need a car to get a driver’s licence), so I’m going to have to do some creative thinking about how to get around that.

I’ve also never even as much as picked up a gun before in my life, either. Obviously, that wasn’t going to be an issue when considering a career in the police in the UK since most police there aren’t armed, but here, they are. I’m not crazy about guns, although mostly it’s the fact that I believe most people just shouldn’t have them, not that they are ipso facto bad. The military, police, and maybe some farmers and other people need them in their work; everyone else, not so much. Regardless, maybe I can take some lessons or something since if I can’t shoot straight then I imagine the academy would take a dim view of this.

Right now, my thinking is to obtain the three books on the study list and just go to town over the next year. Know the law, procedures, Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, backwards and forwards. And whilst I’m certainly in pretty good shape physically (100 miles of cycling a week – plus weightlifting – will do that), it can always be better. The academy has two intakes a year, in January and then July. If I could maybe convince USCIS to expedite my naturalisation to where I actually became a US citizen no later than May/June, I could hopefully start the July 2018 academy program. If not, I probably wouldn’t be able to start the academy until January 2019. Obviously, this is less than ideal. Even entering in 2018, I’d be 39. That’s not exactly a spring chicken, although there is no maximum age you can become a police officer in Texas (as set by the state licencer, the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement), though individual agencies can set their own maximum cutoff ages. In Fort Worth and Dallas the cutoff is 44.

So, this is what’s been on my mind a lot these past few weeks. Am I capable of doing this? Should I do this? I know if my wife were here she would tell me to do it, as well as keep a spare uniform for, uh, “activities”. Maybe this is the point where I draw a line under my self-loathing and hatred of myself, and actually start to think of myself as someone who isn’t a piece of shit.

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The 33rd Dimension

My parents recently came to see me and their grandchildren here in the US. My mom actually hadn’t laid eyes on me in a couple of years, so it was somewhat of a surprise to see me ~100 lbs lighter than the last time she had been here.

I will admit that I dressed up nicely to meet them at the airport, with some of my favourite jeans, a nice grey shirt, and some Golden Fox boots that I recently picked up to make me stand out a little more. As I was getting dressed that day I started to think to myself how my life has changed since I stopped being a fatass and made positive changes in my life. Before, my only concern when it came to clothes was “will this fit me?”, “does it come in 2X/3X?”. The actual look of something was almost completely irrelevant, and as a result I largely looked like a clown during my entire 20s.

Now though, things are different. I’m actually able to start being interested in fashion, and buy clothes that look good on me, rather than having to settle for the only thing on the rack that I can fit into. I remember when I was buying clothes for my wife’s memorial service, I had to go to three stores before I could find a pair of 46″ trousers that would accommodate my bulk. Today I have a 33″ waist, and by the end of the year it will probably be 31-32″; hell, I’ll actually need a belt to keep my jeans from falling down around my ankles, which will be a somewhat surreal fact in itself.

I can’t help but linger on the time I wasted, since basically my entire 20s were full of gluttony, food, and dodging cameras.

I’m never going to be a male model. My body has been ravaged by the years of neglect that I fostered upon it, to the point where I may need to consider loose skin removal surgery in the future if I ever want to get in a position where I can be shirtless during the summer months and not look terrible. For now I’ll continue to lift my weights, eat clean, and hope that over time it will tighten up naturally – at least a little. At the end of the day if that’s the price I have to pay for all the years of shitty living, then that’s how it is.

I do sometimes think about the numbers. I mean, there’s a lot of fat people out there (this is America after all, land of the fat, home of the fast food), and whilst I’m sure many of them swear to change (especially around the end of the year), that they are going to lose weight and keep it off, I dare say the number that actually do that is very small. I don’t mean to break my arm patting myself on the back, but I did what I said I was going to do. Anyone can say they’re going to do something, but then you actually have to follow through and do it. I did that – and I’m proud of myself for it. Then it hits you… “what next?”

I guess that’s something I need to figure out.

Stuff Happens

Another week, another mass shooting somewhere in America. This time the unfortunate place to be was Umpqua Community College in Oregon, where a gunman killed nine people yesterday before himself being shot and killed by police.

I have never liked guns. As a Brit it’s not something I ever really had to worry about in the UK, because most handguns were banned in 1997 following the Dunblane school shooting in Scotland in 1996, where a heavily-armed middle-aged man entered a nursery school and shot to death 16 children and one teacher. It is still the worst gun atrocity that has taken place in the UK. I am particularly proud of the political response that took place after this horrendous act of evil. After a public inquiry, it was decided that almost all private ownership of handguns was to be outlawed, and this actually happened. The UK now has one of the lowest gun-related homicide rates in the world.

One of the things I dislike most about the US is the gun culture. I live in Texas and it’s particularly prevalent here, as well as many other parts of the deep south, but it touches everywhere to a greater or lesser extent. That Americans have become so inoculated to gun violence and these prolific mass shootings is… I almost have no words for it (but as a writer I’m damn well going to try). The Second Amendment is woefully outdated. The fact that the NRA is near single-handedly repelling all efforts at effective gun control is horribly offensive. People are dying on a regular basis, but Congress still cannot pass even the mildest gun control legislation (such as better background checks for people seeking handgun licences, for example) without the NRA and its denizens flooding the airwaves with panic-inducing press releases detailing how the Second Amendment is under assault yet again.

Americans love their guns, and the sad truth is they love their guns more than they love its people. These tragic deaths are preventable, but the NRA and many right-wing politicians have whipped up the populace into such an anti-government frenzy that you would think the government was sending federal agents to your home right now to take all of your weapons, and probably your money and property too.

The blowback has already started. Governor Jeb Bush, a frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, was quoted today as saying “I don’t think more government is necessarily the answer to this… stuff happens”.

Stuff happens.

Sorry nine people who died yesterday in an attempt to get an education and better themselves. Stuff happens. Sorry to the 10,000 people that have been killed in gun-related violence in the US this year (so far). Stuff happens.

Why some Americans are obsessed with keeping these killing machines close at hand I do not fully understand. I can somewhat understand the idea of wanting to keep your family safe and perhaps – perhaps – I can see that for some a gun might be the best way they can think of to do that. For the average person though, there is no need for them.

But guns don’t kill people – people kill people!

Not buying it, sorry. The fact that guns are so easy for the average person to obtain is precisely why there are so many gun-related shootings and killings. And it’s a lot easier to injure and kill people – especially a lot of people – with a gun than with a knife or almost any other kind of weapon. Sure, if guns were (somehow) banned then you would still see some kinds of violence, but instead of killing nine, maybe he would only have been able to get to one or two before being overcome – or maybe even zero. We don’t know, and there isn’t the political will amongst the right-wing establishment to find out.

Over the next couple of weeks you’ll see the usual talking heads on the news say that gun control would not have stopped him, he would have killed regardless, or would have found some other way to do it. Everyone will go about their business, and essentially nothing will change. And then there’ll be another mass shooting, a few weeks after that there’ll be another, and so on and so forth. A recent study by Harvard University showed that the rate of mass shootings has increased threefold since 2011. The interval between these types of events is becoming shorter and shorter until eventually we’ll be at one a day; the only thing the news will have time to report is where it took place and how many were killed, before moving on to the next.

America needs to kick its gun habit and get clean. More so than ever, I don’t see that happening in my lifetime.

The Sky Is Falling

It’s been an interesting few weeks here in the US with regards to gay marriage. With the Supreme Court decision effectively legalising it in all 50 states just a few weeks ago, it’s been fascinating to see the fallout from the religious right as they are dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

Here’s my deal with religion: I don’t care for it myself, but I’m happy for people that get something out of it, provided they don’t use it as a club to beat others with. You go to church/temple/mosque/whatever and think that it helps you in some way? More power to you. When we have elected officials refusing to execute their official duties in the name of religious tolerance, that’s when it becomes a problem.

And my absolute biggest problem with Christians in particular here in America is their hypocrisy.

The Bible contains many, many prohibitions. A few of the more egregious ones:

  • You can’t eat bacon or pork in general (Leviticus 11:4)
  • Torn clothing (Leviticus 10:6)
  • Tattoos (Leviticus 19:28)
  • Marrying after divorce is adultery (Mark 10:11–12)
  • Women talking in church (!) (1 Corinthians 14:34)
  • Wearing a garment made of two or more fibers (Leviticus 19:19)
  • Eating seafood (Leviticus 10–11)
  • Working on Saturday (Exodus 31:14–15)
  • Trimming your beard (Leviticus 19:27)

There’s plenty of others out there but you get the gist of it. So, what makes the bible’s anti-gay verses so much more important than all of the rest? I’m sure somewhere there are people who strictly obey all of these and everything else, and whilst they probably lead incredibly backward and plain lives, they are at least consistent in their actions. The vast majority of Christians though? Not so much. Jesus tattoos…cheeseburgers…eating at Red Lobster…shaving your beard…wearing a blended sweater…working on the weekend…well you get the point. The hypocrisy is on such a staggering level that it’s essentially hiding in plain sight. Gay people getting married? Time to latch onto that and act like it will open a portal directly to hell and drag the whole world through it.

I get the feeling that religion isn’t meant to be like a buffet at a restaurant. You don’t get to pick and choose the bits you’ll follow and the bits you won’t. So when Rowan County, KY Clerk Kim Davies refuses to issue marriage licences to homosexual couples, maybe she should read up more on Mark 10 where it speaks about no divorce (she’s currently on her fourth marriage, which, the bible teaches, means she should technically be put to death).

I simply do not understand why gay marriage in particular seems to provoke this outrage amongst much of America. I don’t see them picketing seafood restaurants or men’s barber shops, so why this hatred for gay people? For the most part they’re just trying to live their lives the same as everyone else. They aren’t trying to turn you gay or subvert your children or any of the other nonsense stories that I’ve seen and read from fundamentalist Christians.

It’s a big world out there, full of both great and terrible things. People should try to embrace the former, repair the latter, and realise that gay people are not the enemy.

How Do You Solve A Problem Like The Donald?

I have been interested in politics for most of my life, and graduated with a degree in it back when I lived in the UK.

The American political system – and some of the… interesting… characters that inhabit it – can be quite illuminating at times.

A case in point is Donald Trump. I’ll get the tl;dr out of the way first: I don’t like him. I don’t like the greed and opulence that seems to surround him and people of his ilk. I actually find the accumulation of such vast amounts of personal wealth to be personally abhorrent, but that is often misinterpreted as people like me hate businesses and capitalism, which is something that could not be further from the truth.

I’d certainly characterise myself as someone who sits left-of-centre on the political spectrum, but, again, that doesn’t mean I love the Democratic party and hate Republicans, either. The skinny here is that Donald Trump is a clown sitting at the big boys’ table. I find both his rhetoric and his personality to be abrasive to the point of ugliness; I find his “plain-speaking” (that people apparently “love”) to simply be a synonym for being able to preach his sexist and racist nonsense without being able to be called out on it as easily (in the UK we would call such people “forthright” and “eccentric” – same difference); every day he remains in the Republican primary is a boon to the Democrats. He confuses “plain-speaking” with “saying stupid things”, and thinks he is doing the former when in reality he is actually doing the latter.

Donald Trump is unelectable as President of the United States. Let’s be plain: he’s unelectable as my local dog catcher, too. Every day that he keeps campaigning and associating his bullshit with the GoP brand is like another Christmas for Democrats. I really do not understand how a man so clever (at least on paper) can be so stupid. He genuinely believes that he is “sticking it to the system” by continuing to spread his ridiculous opinions in the face of a party that would very much prefer he didn’t do that. This may be good for Donald Trump but it certainly isn’t good for Republicans, and they sully themselves by maintaining an association with someone as toxic as him.

At least with the fallout from Thursday’s first Republican debate his misogyny is rearing its head a little more. I have no love for Megyn Kelly either, but that dislike does not extend to insulting her personally or implying that her menstrual cycle is the source of her issues. Donald Trump is not going to be President, nor is he going to be the Republican nominee for President. He will flame-out, hopefully in a spectacular fashion, sometime in the next few weeks or months. On the one hand it’s unadulterated entertainment, on the other you wonder how can people take American politics seriously with someone like this neck-deep in the middle of it.

I can’t vote since I’m not a US citizen, but if I could it would certainly not be for Donald Trump. He is a relic from a bygone age, and people who like him and actually profess to wanting to vote for him should seriously reexamine both their lives and his background – I don’t think they would like what they found in either case.

Black

Today is the fifth anniversary of the day I lost my wife.

It hadn’t actually dawned on me until around 2am, at which point I got an email from my dad mentioning it. I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that I hadn’t remembered until he mentioned it. It would probably have dawned on me later in the day, or worst case in a few days I’d then remember that I didn’t do anything on the day, and would feel guilty about it.

Clearly she was on my mind though, because I dreamt about her last night. I was back at university where we met, and I remember distinctly that she was just missing, and I couldn’t find her. All of a sudden I saw her off in the distance, and ran up to her. I held her and kissed her, and although it wasn’t altogether clear to me where she had been, I was so glad to have her back again.

I think I will be in love with her for the rest of my life, and that will probably prevent me from being able to have a meaningful relationship with anyone else. Who else would have the patience to put up with someone like me?

July

July is always a difficult month.

It’s both my wedding anniversary and, a few weeks later, the anniversary of my wife’s death. This year is five years, and I’m sorry to say it snuck up on me without realising. Maybe it’s a good thing, that I wasn’t paying as close attention to the calendar as I usually do. Maybe it signifies that I’m moving on, in my own slow-as-molasses way. That’s unlikely though; I know I haven’t gotten over her, not really, and sometimes I wonder if any. I don’t cry as much these days, and the suicidal thoughts have mostly been banished, but the darker impulses still have control over me for brief periods, when they want to.

I finally got around to watching Black Mirror this week, a fantastic show about the darker side of technology in our increasingly connected world. One episode, “Be Right Back”, deals with a young couple. The guy is killed in a car accident, and his wife finds a service that can construct a facsimile of him from his public posts and tweets. At first she just talks to him by text, but later is able to construct a body for him, that looks and sounds like the real him.

I could see where it was going, and thought I’d be ok with it. Just like The Fountain though, it had shredded me by the end. I had to stop it a little before the end because all I could think of was that if this really existed there would be nothing I wouldn’t pay to get it. Things like that are what tell me that I have not moved on, and not only that, I’m not sure if I ever will. I know that I’m lonely, far more lonely than I try to appear to the kids, but I’m not looking for anyone else, not doing online dating, or any other kind for that matter. In six years both of my kids will probably be gone from the house, and I’ll be in my early 40s. Do I really aspire to sit in an empty house surrounded by pictures of her, looking at her face whenever I talk to my kids, and pretend that that’s healthy?

I’m not sure what to do about it.