Branded

Falling through the universe at the speed of life

By David Glenn Cox

I took the test to be a fireman once. I did reasonably well, and they called me downtown for the interview. But upon reflection, I decided I didn’t want to be a fireman. It was a bad fit emotionally, too much crisis and drama. Crying children, death and personal disasters, not the right job for me.

Plus, you don’t work as a fireman; you become a fireman. That is your identity, and all of your friends are firemen too. You bowl in the firemen’s bowling league and picnic at the firemen’s picnic. It becomes your identity, like it or not. There’s nothing wrong with that life, but it just wasn’t right for me.

Never for a moment, did I consider becoming a policeman, same reasons only more so on steroids. Crazy hours, crazy job. Like a solider only with more paperwork. An inescapable identity like a tattoo. I had a friend who was an ex-cop, and he told me that it isn’t hard to be a good cop. But it is hard to stay one. The minutia and craziness with people trying to kill you. A mental health amateur working inside an armed asylum with nothing to fall back on but a gun.

Police in schools was a new idea when I attended good ole Jeff Davis (sort of) High School. We called our “Safety” officer Robbie the Robot. He walked with a military bearing with hands and feet coordinated. If his legs were moving the arms were swinging. Plus, his crew cutted head would swivel like a security camera back and forth as he prowled the halls, making him look robotic and thus highly efficient. Because of his gait and animation, you could see him coming for miles. He couldn’t have snuck up on a dust bunny.

The back story we heard was he’d been a cop for a long time. And there was a dispute of some sort with his wife that had turned ugly, and they didn’t want to fire him. But they couldn’t keep him around the station house anymore either. So, he became a “Safety” officer at a high school named for a Confederate President. I don’t know that he ever caught anyone; he never caught me. Smoking various and sundry things, cutting class and being disreputable as most 15-year old’s are prone to be.

Like a soldier or a fireman, you go to work each day knowing that you could get killed in this line of work. But in the back of your mind knowing that if you fuck up, someone else could die. When that moment of truth comes, your entire life will be defined in those few minutes. Pete Arredondo the Chief of Police for Uvalde schools had stopped speaking to officials after the murderous rampage. If he’d told Clarence, the Angel, the world would probably have been better off if I’d never be born. Clarence would answer, “probably so.”

Your first tip off is when the “Chief” stops talking to officials AKA his bosses. That’s a pretty good indication that something is amiss. Then the “Chief” is willing to tell his side of the story (Because you see, the “Chief” has “his” side.)  with his attorney at his elbow. “No questions please, this is an ongoing investigation and we’re trying to derail it. Strike two!

Then the “Chief” starts telling fairy tales. He didn’t bring his radios, neither school nor police because…he thought that they would slow him down. I suppose his choices on career day were either school police chief or NFL running back. Look at the picture. Do you think it was radios slowing him down? He was the “Chief” and if any of his sixty fellow officers had information or needed the “Chief’s” input. Too bad, the “Chief” was a man on the move, unwilling to be slowed down by modern technology.

But the “Chief” said that he didn’t know he was in charge. The “Chief” insignia on his collar wasn’t a helpful enough reminder. Did you know that Audie Murphy wasn’t in charge either? He charged a German position all by himself with people shooting machine guns at him. “Wait here men, the war can’t last more than another year or so. I’m not charging that position until someone in authority orders me to charge it!”

Sargent York was in charge of the patrol, but he was still only a Sargent. He wasn’t ordered to do it and didn’t have an attorney to ask for advice. He just did it and his life was defined accordingly by those few  minutes.  

As I read about the “Chiefs” self-justifications and mindless excuses the theme from the old Chuck Conner’s TV show “Branded” began to play in my head. “All but one man died there at Bitter Creek, and they say he ran away.”  

The “Chief” explained that he was waiting on a tool (Add Your Comment Here!) because the door was locked. Let that play on your brain as you think about the women who ran into the school unarmed, recused her kids and ran back out. She probably wouldn’t have made it out alive, if she’s been carrying a bulky old police radio.

We are taught from childhood to remember that there are people out there less fortunate than us. Being a precocious child, I always wondered who was most the unfortunate of them all? Starving third-world villagers or the handicapped or the infirm? Now I know who it is, his name is Pete.

I don’t know what is in Pete’s heart, but I do know what is in his head. His every action tells me by his behavior that he’s guilty, and he knows it. If it were me, I’d be in a mental institution on Thorazine or suicide watch. I don’t think I could live with myself after that. Hiring an attorney and legal culpability would be the very last thing on my mind.

There are things much worse than dying. Watching the morning sun come up day after day. And knowing that when your moment of truth came, you failed badly and a lot of people died because of it. All the training and classrooms, all a big fucking waste of time. Thousands of practice rounds fired on the firing range a joke. All those children died, but the “Chief” didn’t know he was the “Chief.” Besides, he needed a tool to break down door because they didn’t have any KEYS!

And the “Chief” can take the rest of his life trying to make excuses and justifications about radios or the weather in Peru, and maybe pick out the best three for publication. But it won’t do him any good. Branded!

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” ― Franklin D. Roosevelt

Something more important than saving your own big fat ass.

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