I hope the first Boston cop who got to that boat in Watertown asked, “What’s the staw-ree heah?”
I hope the first Boston cop who got to that boat in Watertown asked, “What’s the staw-ree heah?”
If you’re going to finish your long life of crime and drug abuse at the age of fifty-one shot dead in the street during a fight with a state trooper, you at least want the police to say nice things about you when you’re gone:
Police knew [“Curley” Baynes] as an old-school fighter. One officer complained Baynes cracked his vertebrae in 1991 during a fight. Officers had responded to a harassment complaint and ended up in a brawl. They pressed assault charges, and Baynes countered with claims officers smashed his face into a brick wall and clubbed him. A jury dismissed the assault charges at trial.
Paul Weber remembers the day he saw Baynes leaving a neighbor's house with sacks-full of jewelry. Weber, a former college wrestler, was starting his career with Newburgh police at the time. Weber was off-duty, but he chased the bigger man for blocks on South Street before Baynes got tired of running.
"He just turns and squares off in the middle of the street," Weber said. "He fought like a champ, and I was right there with him."
Curley’s friends remember him as “good at heart,” the kind of guy who “baked cookies for friends.”
Read all of Doyle Murphy’s story at the Times Herald-Record. Photo by Jeff Goulding/THR.
Registration not required but suggested for regular readers of this blog.
Here are a few notes I made to myself about how not to write a thriller while reading Lou Berney’s new thriller, Whiplash River.
Not that I’m planning to write a thriller. And not that if I wrote one it would as entertaining as Berney’s a bit overstuffed but generally fun, cheerfully and unabashedly Elmore Leonard-influenced story of a former car thief and wheelman turned restauranteur dragged into a long con by a dapper old man of mystery while on the run from three separate sets of killers intent on making him dead in the most unpleasant ways possible.
It’s just that I couldn’t help reading Whiplash River with a divided mind.Seemed like every time Berney was just getting a scene up to speed, he slammed on the brakes and brought things to a screeching halt for some unnecessary exposition and then, without warning, he’d punch the accelerator and off we’d go again, nose practically in the air, only to skid to another stop a page later for another expository pit stop. It gave me a case of critical whiplash, particularly in the early going. Being jarred in and out of the story like that caused me to keep taking my eyes off the road and all that time at the pumps for plot fill-ups gave me too much time to think about the driving instead of looking forward to the trip ahead.
And then, halfway through, the story breaks itself rather neatly in two and Berney effectively starts over with a new novel with some of the same characters, the first part of the book reduced to a very long prologue.
At any rate, here are my notes:
If your first scene is several pages of exposition mainly explaining how your hero got his nickname and your second scene is your hero breaking up a knife fight in a restaurant kitchen between the prep chef and a waiter while putting out a grease fire at the same time, then your second scene is your first scene and your first scene is a few lines of dialog in your fifth or sixth scene.
If your hero is spending his time after something violent or threatening or comic or baffling that just happened to him thinking about what just happened to him in a way that pretty much just recaps what just happened, hit the backspace key and hold it down until you’ve deleted at least three sentences and then start in on making the next violent, threatening, comic, or baffling thing happen.
If you’re not planning to introduce your love interest until halfway through the novel, work her backstory in as you write your way towards her entrance or else you’re going to have to interrupt yourself in the middle of the chase to spend several pages telling us what is most likely an old, old story: They met, they were in love, it ended badly, they both still carry a torch.
While you’re at it, don’t fall in love with your leading female character.
Don’t introduce a second female character and fall in love with her too.
Don’t let on you’re having fun picturing which actresses you’d like to play your female leads and imagining them speaking your dialog. It’s distracting not least because it will cause your readers to start playing the casting game along with you, and, by the way, Emma Stone and Angelina Jolie.
Also, if you’re holding off on revealing the MacGuffin that’s driving your plot, make sure it’s a truly weird and unique item or a completely understandable one, like a painting, a diamond, a top secret soft drink recipe, either way, something your readers might be tempted to steal as opposed to something you have to keep reminding them is worth a lot of money to the right sort of buyer. Don’t make it a banal piece of historical trivia that happens to be A.) real and easily Googled and B.) currently on display in a museum in New York City and not in the condition it’s going to be when you’re through with it. If you insist on using that particular artifact, think about what the National Treasure movies did with similar artifacts, which was not make them ends in themselves.
Now, obviously, it sounds like I only learned negative lessons from Whiplash River. Even if that was the case, though, please don’t get the idea I only have negative things to say. The Elmore Leonard influence is a very good thing, as are the comparisons coming up to Carl Hiaasen and Donald Westlake. But, as it happens, I drew one very important positive lesson from the book. It’s actually not something new. It’s just something I like being reminded of.
There are three ways to go with a thriller. You can write what’s essentially a horror story. You can tell a morality tale. You can make it a comedy. It seems like most contemporary thrillers---books and movies---are horror stories. The bad guys are monsters, inhumanly evil, irresistible, relentless, and possessed of an almost supernatural ability to cause harm and get away with it. John D. McDonald, Raymond Chandler, and Robert B. Parker told morality tales. Most of the crimes in their novels arise from decent people’s moral failings rather than from the intrusion of an outside evil. Whiplash River is a comedy, cheerfully amoral and with a cast of lunatics, not sinners or monsters. Issues of right and wrong, good and evil are left out of the mix or pushed into the background by characters’ more immediate concerns, like “How did I get myself into this mess and how am I going to get out of it.” Characters aren’t motivated by their vices so much as by their obsessions and manias. Troubles don’t come because of moral lapses but because human beings just have a natural tendency to goof up.
Elmore Leonard is Berney’s obvious influence, but there’s more than a nod towards Carl Hiaasen here too. Berney’s humor, though, isn’t as mordant or borderline sadistic as Leonard’s can be or as blackly farcical as Hiaasen’s. Actually, in its more screwball comedy, Whiplash River reminded me of Donald Westlake’s comic crime novels, particularly the Dortmunder series. Berney’s protagonist, Shake Bouchon, is not as smart as Dortmunder and he lacks Dortmunder’s instinct for self-preservation, but like Dortmunder he is, to paraphrase Westlake himself, a man upon whom the sun shines only when he needs complete darkness.
Shake---and as I hinted up top, Berney spends too much time in his first scene explaining how Shake came to be called Shake, and it turns out not to be an interesting or important story---is having a bad week.
His beachside restaurant in Belize isn’t doing a landmark business. The boss of the local drug cartel who loaned Shake the money to open the place is not happy that Shake has fallen behind in his payments. An FBI agent has flown down from the States intent on coercing Shake into testifying against some Armenian mobsters Shake did a few jobs for back in California. And to top off his troubles, a ski-masked thug shows up during what passes for the dinner rush and tries to kill one of Shake’s few customers, shooting up the dining room in the process.
Since dead customers tend to bring down the ratings in the online travel guides, Shake reflexively tackles the thug and after a less than heroic struggle chases him from the scene with a broken nose.
The thug turns out to be part of a team of rookie killers for hire on their first hit, and his partner is his ferocious, vindictive, psychopathic, and fiercely loyal freckle-faced girlfriend who immediately decides that Shake has to pay for breaking her beloved’s nose and, incidentally, getting in the way of their doing the job they were paid to do. For the sake of love and professional pride, Shake has to die, painfully.
It’s a question, though, who’s going to cause Shake the more trouble, the freckle-faced assassin or the customer whose life Shake has saved.
Harry Quinn is, he claims, a semi-retired CIA operative who, if he’s to be believed, had a hand in every important Agency mission from the Nixon Administration on up into George W. Bush’s first term and who, take his word for it, still gets called in from time to time to help out his old colleagues and even, and this Shake is willing to believe, old enemies. The grateful Quinn, feeling he owes Shake a life-debt, wants to repay him by bringing him in on a scheme Quinn promises will pay off in millions of dollars. Shake is inclined to say thanks, but no thanks, wisely figuring that Quinn is not someone to trust with his physical or financial well-being.
But then Shake’s restaurant blows up. The freckle-faced assassin tries to shoot him dead on the beach. The drug kingpin decides to write of his losses and Shake along with them. And the FBI agent gives Shake a choice: rat on the Armenians or…well, actually, there isn’t an or.
Shake needs to get out of Belize in a hurry. But his only ride is Quinn and Quinn demands Shake’s help with his scheme as the price of the ticket.
That’s a lot going on for one novel, and we’re still only halfway through.
Shake realizes he and Quinn are going to need some help. He doesn’t feel smart enough or ruthless enough himself and even if the money Quinn expects his scheme to net is real, Quinn himself doesn’t seem wholly grounded in reality. Shake decides to enlist an ex-girlfriend, a brilliant and ruthless grifter turned brilliant and ruthless hedge-fund manager.
Berney doesn’t get heavy handed with the irony. He leaves it up to us to decide if managing a hedge fund is a legalized con game. It’s simply the case that skills and talents are neutral attributes. Gina Clement has skills and talents that make her very good at manipulating people and playing the odds, and she’s decided to use her powers for (a relative and more lucrative) good and not for (life and limb-risking) evil anymore. But when Shake and Quinn show up at her office with their proposition, she isn’t in the mood to hear it. She’s mad at Shake. Their relationship ended badly. Gina had a longstanding rule regarding her love life. Men don’t dump Gina Clement. Gina Clement dumps them. Shake broke the rule.
Then it occurs to her that, besides offering her the chance to have more fun than she’s had in a long time, throwing in with Shake and Quinn will give her ample opportunities to punish Shake for his sins.
From here, the scene shifts to Cairo and Whiplash River II gets underway.
Berney’s dialog is sharp, clever, and idiolectic---everybody talks like themselves and not like extensions of the narrator, although I have one more note for myself here: Don’t have your characters think what they could and would just as likely have said out loud. The action scenes are clean, neat, coherent, exciting, and funny. Shake is a congenial and likeable protagonist. Gina is appealing in her criminal brilliance, romantic perversity, and, predictable, soft-heartedness. She and Shake make a sexy couple, a felonious Beatrice and Benedick expending as much mental effort on trying to con each other about their feelings as on conning their mark out of the MacGuffin. Quinn is a hoot and a half, and there are a number of standout supporting and minor characters, my favorite being Meg, the freckle-faced assassin, a little Tasmanian devil with a gun spinning in and out of scenes on the strength of pure, vengeful rage.
I said Whiplash River breaks in half, turning itself into its own prequel and sequel. But another way to look at it is it’s as if Berney has given us back to back episodes of a TV series with an ongoing story arc that carries through the stand-alone plots of individual episodes, like Justified, or Leverage, or Burn Notice. In fact, and I mean this as a major compliment, Whiplash River is a lot like Burn Notice, with Shake as Michael Westen’s less together, less driven, less dangerous but at heart just as romantic cousin and Gina as Fi’s more cerebral, cooler-headed, less pyromaniacal but just as emotionally and sexually manipulative little sister.
Sadly, there isn't a character comparable to Sam Axe.
Read an excerpt.
The difference here is that the suspect isn’t part of a gang of cool surfer dudes looking for cheap thrills.
He’s allegedly a jonesing investment banker addicted to prescription drugs.
So, a guy limps into a bank yesterday…
Witnesses told police a man passed a note to tellers at a Chase branch, demanding money. It was about 3:30 p.m., and the man wore a long-sleeve plaid shirt over a white shirt, dark pants, brown sneakers and a tan ball cap with a large "L" printed in script on it, Newburgh police Chief Michael Clancy said. The man was thin, dark-skinned with scruffy facial hair and stood between 5 feet 6 inches and 5 feet 10 inches tall. Clancy estimated his age at 20-30 years old.
I’m betting the limp was cured within blocks of the bank.
Probably the plaid shirt and the baseball cap disappeared shortly after that.
The scruffy beard too.
Also, his posture probably improved.
This guy watches the same TV shows I do.
Not that I rob banks.
Read Doyle Murphy’s whole story at the Times Herald-Record.
Registration suggested for regular visitors to Mannionville.
Photo by Jeff Goulding of the Times Herald-Record.
This is weird. It looks as though the Sanford Police Department did its job the night George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin, taking Zimmerman in for questioning and applying to the Seminole County Prosecutor’s office for an arrest warrant charging Zimmerman for manslaughter or criminal negligence. The Prosecutor turned them, saying there was no probable cause. So it was the prosecutor’s office that goofed up and the police did better than I thought based on the news stories I read last week
But the reason they looked bad in those news stories is that their own Chief made them look bad with his cursory and dismissive descriptions of what happened and remarks implying Trayvon shared the blame for what happened to him. Basically, the chief made it sound as if his cops just took Zimmerman at his word and let him go and he thought it was too bad Trayvon was dead, but, well, you know, the kid should have known better than go to the store at night because he might scare white idiots with guns.
You should read the whole story at the Miami Herald.
None of this changes what happened to Trayvon. An idiot with a gun but with no badge, no uniform, and no authority, out playing at being a cop, thought Trayvon looked ‘suspicious,’ chased him even though he was told by the 911 dispatcher to stay out of it and let the real police handle it, caught up with Trayvon, and was surprised that the kid thought that the stranger with a gun coming at him out of the dark wanted to hurt him or rob him and decided to fight back.
Trayvon’s mistake was thinking courage and fists could defeat stupidity and cowardice and a gun.
And it doesn’t change the fact that Stand Your Ground laws privilege and protect idiots with guns.
Update: Melissa Harris-Parry identifies Trayvon’s “mistake” in the eyes of the Right Wingers attempting to smear his memory and let Zimmerman off the hook:
…the unarmed teenager was culpable in the encounter that led to his death, not because of any aggressive or illegal act but because he was not following the appropriate protocol for being black in public. A black body in public space must presume its own guilt and be prepared to present a rigidly controlled public performance of docility and respectability.
Read the rest of Harris-Perry’s column, What It’s Like to Be a Problem, at the Nation.
I know you all know the story by now, but I feel compelled repeat it. It’s a story that needs to be told and told and told again or it will disappear from the news, pushed aside by the GOP primaries and new incidents of celebrity misbehavior and March Madness and even some actual news.
Last month, in Sanford, Florida, a grown man chased and confronted a seventeen year old boy and shot the kid dead. The man was armed with a 9mm semi-automatic pistol. The kid was armed with a box of candy. The man was playing at being a cop. The kid was on his way home from buying a snack at the store. The man thought the kid was “suspicious.” The kid thought….well, we don’t know what he thought because he’s not around to tell us, but the man wasn’t wearing a uniform, he didn’t carry a badge, the car he was driving had no markings---because he wasn’t a cop! He was an idiot pretending to himself he was a cop!---so what the kid probably thought was that some idiot who had no business chasing him was chasing him and he was under no obligation to listen to, let alone obey the idiot. The idiot was in fact an idiot and he had been told by the police, when he’d called 9-1-1 to report his suspicions, that he really didn’t have any business chasing the kid and he should leave him alone until the real police showed up. The idiot, being an idiot, didn’t listen.
It turns out that under Florida law, any frightened idiot with delusions of grandeur who thinks for whatever reason you might try to hurt him or rob him can shoot you dead as long as he can convince the cops---or a jury---he “reasonably” thought you were a threat to life, limb, or property.
When the real cops arrived, they decided on the spot that the idiot had “reasonably” felt threatened to the point where pointing his gun and pulling the trigger was the reasonable thing to do.
It seems incredible that police officers would have accepted an idiot pretend cop’s word that a man with a gun felt he was in danger from a kid with a box of Skittles. But they were likely helped along by the fact that when they arrived the idiot was bleeding and had apparently been on the ground, knocked down or pulled down in a scuffle with the kid.
Based upon the way their chief has talked about what happened since, though, it seems that what really convinced them was that the idiot was white and the kid was black.
Now, it’s “reasonable” to suppose that something like this happened, that the kid, thinking the idiot had no business chasing him and, I’m guessing but it’s a good bet, grabbing him to “detain” him, hauled off and clocked the idiot one good and proper. In addition to the candy, the kid was also armed with some iced tea. I don’t know if it was in a can or a bottle. Either one, you get hit in the face with it, it’s going to hurt. The idiot, going down, might have “reasonably” thought the kid wasn’t going to leave it at that and managed to get off a lucky shot.
Of course, what he also might “reasonably” have thought, if he hadn’t been an idiot, was, “I’ve got no badge, no uniform, no real authority, and no real business chasing him, he doesn’t know me from Adam, and I’ve got a gun. The kid might have thought I was trying to rob him. No wonder he hit me. Maybe I need to do a better job of explaining. Or maybe I should just wait for the real cops to arrive.”
Let’s not think about what might have happened if the real cops had showed up to find a black kid standing over a prostrate and bleeding white guy right now, but it’s hard to imagine they’d have accepted the kid’s story that he “reasonably” believed the white guy intended to do him bodily harm.
The thing is that although the cops who were first to arrive might not have known the whole story at the moment, it couldn’t have been too long before they heard it all, and that story is this:
“I was out pretending to be a real cop, a way I like to spend my Sunday evenings, when I saw a black kid in what I think of as a white neighborhood, which can only mean one thing, so I called it in, as if I was real cop. But the 9-1-1 dispatcher reminded me I’m not a real cop and told me to leave it for the real cops to handle. But I’m too big an idiot. I decided to chase the kid. When I caught up with him, he defied me. Even though I wasn’t wearing a uniform or carrying a badge, I expected him to let me point my gun at him and tell him what to do. Instead he treated me like I was just some idiot threatening him with a gun. I got scared and I got angry---angrier, because I was already angry at him for not respecting my authority which I don’t have, but never mind---so I discharged my weapon. So even though I had no real reason to be suspicious of this kid, and even though I was officially told to stay out of it, and even though I had no business chasing him and no authority to arrest or detain him, and even though he had nothing in his hands but candy and ice tea, I ‘reasonably’ thought I was within my rights to shoot him.”
To which the police should have said and most likely would have said, if the idiot had been black and the kid had been white, or if both had been black, or if both had been white, “Tell it to the judge, moron.”
But that didn’t happen. The cops agreed that the idiot had acted “reasonably” and let him go because we live in a country where a grown man running around playing at being the Blue Knight can harass a seventeen year old kid going about the business of being a normal seventeen year old kid and then shoot him dead because the kid showed in some way that he didn’t like being harassed by a stranger waving a gun at him. This is the law in Florida. It’s the law in 29 states. It’s going to become the law in a bunch more. Any idiot can shoot you if he “reasonably” believes you’re threatening him.
It’s the case that this is more likely to happen to you if you’re a young black man. It’s clear from the police chief’s justifications for letting the idiot go that not only is a young black man a suspicious and threatening character just by being a young black man but that a young black man ought to know that he scares white idiots just by being a young black man and should adjust his behavior accordingly. That means, generally, avoiding contact with white people as much as possible, but specifically when confronted and challenged, cringing and apologizing and doing whatever the white idiot tells him to do or just running away like a thief, as if turning his back on a frightened white idiot waving a gun would have been a “reasonable” course of action.
Basically, what the chief was saying was that Trayvon Martin should have known that he had no right to go out to the store to buy a snack in a neighborhood where frightened white idiots pretending to be cops are wandering around with guns.
So this is the story. We live in a country where any frightened idiot can shoot you dead if you make him nervous.
This is even more the case if you’re a young black man and the frightened idiot is white.
But basically it comes down to this. We live in a country that privileges and protects frightened white idiots with guns.
Update: Up above I wrote that we’ll never know what Trayvon was thinking when the idiot chased him down, but I wasn’t thinking. Trayvon had his cell phone with him. And being a normal seventeen year old kid out on the business of being a normal seventeen year old kid, he was talking on it while he walking. He was talking to his girlfriend and told her what he thought was happening.
The fact that this alleged madam was born in Scotland is not the most interesting thing about her---the guard pig at her country home who chased away a cop and her “friendship” with the Morgan Stanley investor broker helping her finance her new “dating” service and her animal rescue work and her third husband the realtor and once upon a time local football hero and her brother-in-law being a sheriff’s department detective and her bodyguard Sly being a former New York City cop and her four school-aged children and the pro athletes coming in from out of town who knew that for a good time visit Anna’s and her assuring nervous clients that she had sympathetic connections high up in the police department all trump her ethnic heritage in the colorful character department. But I can’t help it.
I hear she’s a Scot and all I can think is “A Scottish brothel?” and I picture tartan wallpaper and tartan curtains and the girls in kilts and a blindfolded bagpiper in the parlor instead of a piano player and Mike Meyers greeting the customers with “If it’s not Scottish, it’s crrrrrrap!”
And hoot mon!
Here’s an overview of the story from the Times Herald-Record.
Here’s a jailhouse interview she did with the New York Post in which she insists she’s getting a bum rap.
And here’s a localization from the local paper by Steve Israel and Victor Whitman, Remembered fondly, alleged madam’s husband grew up in Livingston Manor.
One of my great-grandfathers was a police officer in Albany, New York. Not just any police officer though. Great-grandfather Jake was something of a hero cop, famous around town for taking on criminals single-handedly and bare-handed. One time, he busted up a robbery of a jewelry store and hauled in two of the robbers, unarmed and by his lonesome. But his most notorious collar was a gangster known as Boston Blackie. I don’t know the details. In fact, I didn’t know any of this about Jake when I was growing up. His son, my grandfather, didn’t talk about him. He didn’t talk about his older brother the firefighter who died on a call or about his other brother who fought in the trenches in World War I or about his own time in the Army in World War II. And I didn’t know to ask. As far as I knew I came from a long line of engineers, tax accountants, and insurance salesmen and how Great-uncle Fred got that bonus by writing policies for the mayor’s cousins wasn’t a family story I was keen to hear told. But I inherited two of Jake’s billy clubs when my grandfather died. They’re formidable looking rounds of wood and holding one changes your thinking about what it would have meant that Jake went into these encounters “unarmed”.
One of Jake’s most heroic exploits, however, was a rescue. In 1899, he leaped from a bridge to save a man who’d fallen into the Hudson River. This was in winter. Actually, he may have done this twice in his career. We have the original newspaper account but we also have his obituary---he rated quite a big story when he died---and the details in the two accounts differ enough that they could have been two different rescues. People fall into rivers regularly. Jake might easily have responded to more than one splash in the night in his day. He was a cop for a long time. He died on the job. Well, at home, after a long day on the job. He was sixty-eight.
No pensions back then. No social security. You worked till you dropped. I guess. I’m not sure. It might have been that Jake loved being a cop so much he refused to retire. That’s a detail my brother Larry hasn’t turned up yet.
Larry’s the reason we have a lot of the details we do have about any of our ancestors. He’s been researching the family tree for several years now, and just the other day he dug up this:
It’s the police blottter from March 15, 1899. I’ll save you the trouble of enlarging it and trying to read it. The first two entries are about a pair of (I’m guessing) drunks named Coyle and Hogan brought in at one in the morning for “Breach of the peace” by an officer named (it looks like) Gormley. Then it says:
3:15 AM. Patrolman S----- pulled out of the river at the foot of Hamiliton street George Partridge, 21 years old, residence no. 321 First street. He was taken to his home in a carriage. In rescuing Partridge the Patrolman lost his cap in the river.
Now, what I want to know is why Jake’s losing his cap made the report. Was the cap regarded as a piece of equipment it would have been Jake’s responsibility to replace? Was it noted so that the city wouldn’t kick when Jake put in for a new cap? Was it Jake’s own response to what would have sounded at the moment, with Jake standing there in front of the desk sergeant’s dripping wet and shivering, a dumb question, “What happened to your cap?” or Jake’s taciturn and stoic answer to the sergeant’s concern when Jake showed up looking half-frozen and half-drowned?
Sergeant (who of course would have been Irish): Begora, Jake, are ye all roight now? Anything happen to yerself when ye joomped into the water like a idjit?”
Jake: Lost my cap.
If Jake was anything like his son, that would be my bet. My grandfather once wrestled with a rabid dog menacing the neighborhood and, in addition to having his hands all chewed up, had to undergo rabies shots, which as you know is no picnic and which is about what my grandfather replied when asked if the bites and the shots hurt.
Larry thinks the detail about the lost cap might have been something of inside joke because it made the newspaper story. Given Jake’s habit of charging into dangerous situations the cap that drowned in the river might have been just one in a long line of caps Jake had to replace over the course of his career.
Would be interesting to have the story in Jake’s own words, but it doesn’t appear that Albany cops in his day were required to write up individual incident reports. Maybe it’s out there and Larry just hasn’t come across it yet.
Our old friend Chris the Cop took pride in crafting his reports. You can tell from his comments that Chris writes well and he knows how to tell a good story. His fellow officers and the newspaper reporters who covered the cop shop admired his ability to make his reports succinct but full of lively detail and even work in some humor while he was it.
But Chris was Joe Friday compared to another cop he worked with and whose reports Chris had to wade through when Chris made sergeant. The blonde read some of this other cop’s reports when she was working for the newspaper and she remembers them as “beautifully written.”
“Beautifully written” isn’t a compliment many cops strive for when they file a report. But this cop was apparently a closet novelist and he couldn’t sit down at a keyboard without getting carried away by his Muse. He could churn out pages on a routine drunk and disorderly. If he’d had to report on a rescue like the one Jake made, we’d know the exact meaning of that lost cap. We’d see it too. It’d be the image closing out the report, the cap bobbing and swirling away on the frothing and foaming waters, spinning down the river and bouncing off ice flows until it disappeared in the murky darkness of the moonless night.
Paradise, Massachusetts Chief of Police Jesse Stone in what passes for one of his lighter moments on what passes for one of his better days in the CBS television movies based on Robert B. Parker’s novels. Series star Tom Selleck with Kohl Sudduth as Officer “Suitcase” Simpson.
Watched Innocents Lost, the most recent of Tom Selleck’s series of Jesse Stone made for TV movie mysteries, last night. The series is based on the novels by Robert B. Parker, but Selleck made Stone his own even before Parker died. He’s not the first actor to steal a character away from the writer who created him.
Parker created Stone in order to have a leading man who could do things Spenser couldn’t do, have sex with different women, screw up, and…die. Not that it definitely would have happened, but who knows. Agatha Christie killed Poirot. Conan Doyle killed Holmes and would have preferred to leave him dead. If Parker had lived long enough, he might have seen he was working his way to an inevitable of his own devising. Jesse Stone is mortal in a way Spenser isn’t. Besides existing in the third person, which means that there’s a narrator who can witness Stone’s death and survive to tell us about it, Jesse is prone to mistakes and bad judgment. He’s tough but he’s not strong the way Spenser is strong. Jesse’s strength is decidedly not as the strength of ten because his heart is far from pure.
But there’s one more thing. Spenser is a happy man. He likes his life and he enjoys being alive. He is content within himself. Jesse wants out of his life and out of his self. He doesn’t have an explicit death wish but the only reason he has to live is the possibility that things will get better, and he’s not at all sure that that possibility is real.
This doesn’t make Jesse careless or reckless. It just means he has less reason to think his way out of a dire situation. And it makes him more likely to be fatalistic and give in to his fatalism at what would then become a literally fatal moment. I don’t recall Parker ever putting Stone in that sort of danger, where the threat comes as much from within as from without. But the option was always open for him if he decided it was time to end the series in a dramatic and tragic way. Stone would get himself into a situation from which he sees no way out because he wasn’t watching where he was going when he was on his way in. Spenser always watches out for himself. Plus, he has Hawk.
And Susan. And Quirk. And Belson, and Lee Farrell, Chollo, Teddy Sapp, and Vinnie Morris. Spenser would see the point of sacrificing himself, he just wouldn’t ever have to. The angels, and not a few devils, are on his side to pull him back from the edge.
Stone is mostly alone except for his personal demons who would gleefully give him a push.
That’s the fundamental difference between Jesse and Spenser. Spenser is essentially a comic character. Stone a potentially tragic one.
In his novels, Spenser puts things back together. Jesse is what most needs putting back together. His heart and his spirit are broken. His psyche is fractured.
Basically, he’s a mess.
The reason he hasn’t come completely apart or, to put it another way, what holds him together is his sense of responsibility to the people he has sworn to serve and protect.
Jesse is the chief of police in Paradise, Massachusetts, a tourist and fishing village just north of Boston. He’s lucky to have the job. Stone’s an alcoholic. He drank himself out of a marriage and out of his job as a cop with the Los Angeles Police Department, having drunk himself into a demotion from detective. He’s taken the job in Paradise out of desperation, convinced that he doesn’t deserve it or any position of responsibility. It doesn’t help that he’s aware he was only offered it because the town’s corrupt board of selectmen who hired him want a screw-up as chief, because, they expect, he’ll be easy to control.
Of course, they’re wrong. The point is, though, that Jesse is worried they’re right, at least in believing he’s a screw-up.
Spenser has nothing to prove. Jesse has everything to prove, to others but especially to himself.
So with Jesse Stone Parker had a hero who could brood, and sulk, and give in to self-pity and despair. Which meant he could tell grittier, darker, and more “realistic” but also more Romantic stories.
Noticed I capitalized Romantic?
Spenser is a figure out of Arthurian romances. Jesse is a Romantic hero, arriving in Paradise, by way of Wuthering Heights.
But here’s where I’ve always thought Parker goofed. He made Jesse too young and too romantic.
Small r this time.
Stone is in his thirties. Which means that he has a great deal of life ahead of him. His future is full of bright possibilities…if… If Jesse can prove himself---and in every novel he does---and get clean and sober---a trickier proposition---he can leave Paradise for a better job. He might meet someone he’s worthy of loving, marry, and start a family. He might survive, thrive, and prosper. He might be…
Now, no matter how realistic or Romantic Parker intended him, Jesse is trapped in a genre the conventions of which are such that he must triumph at the end of every novel. He always solves the mystery. Things get messy along the way, there are costs he regrets, he hasn’t put any of his demons to rest, just kept them at bay, but he succeeds. Professionally, at any rate.
So it just makes sense that it’s only a matter of time before Stone can leave Paradise and move on to bigger and better things. We see, again and again, that the demons, the self-doubt, the personal foibles and failings, the drinking, the brooding, the angst and the moments of existential despair aren’t getting in his way, and since they aren’t preventing him from doing his job and doing it well, very well, they begin to feel like gimmicks for Parker to use to keep Jesse stuck in Paradise.
He can’t leave until he’s sure he’s clean and sober. He can’t leave until he works things out with his ex-wife. He can’t leave until he stops regretting he his past and learns to focus on his future. He can’t leave until…
I think Parker began to sense this was getting annoying---that Jesse was getting annoying and readers were thinking, Get over it already!---and he began to work out another reason for keeping Jesse where he was. He was liking it there.
He liked being chief. He liked the cops who worked for him. Well, he liked Molly and Suit, at least. He liked the town. He felt at home. He was even beginning to like being himself, something that made at least one reader, me, ask, And why wouldn’t you? You’re young, strong, handsome, you’ve got a good job and you’re good at it, you live in one of the most beautiful places on the Eastern Seaboard, and very hot women, like the fiery redheaded lawyer crossing over from the Spenser novels Rita Fiore, throw themselves at you! What’s not to like?
Stone was beginning to become a younger Spenser, only without the wisecracks, Hawk, and the local color provided by the Boston background, which is to say, without the fun.
When Sunny Randle waltzed into Jesse’s life from Parker’s other detective series, her too obviously symbolic first name blazing, I gave up on the Jesse Stone series.
Parker’s novels, I mean. I’m in no hurry at all to give up watching Selleck’s series and I’m happy to note that Innocents Lost is not going to be the last one. There’s another movie coming in May. Benefit of the Doubt.
At sixty-seven---Sixty-seven? Magnum is pushing seventy? How is that possible?---Selleck is at least thirty years too old for the part. You would think. If you didn’t, like me, think Parker had made Stone too young. Although Selleck’s thickened up quite a bit since his Magnum days, he can still pull off playing, well, not young. He doesn’t play Stone as young, which is the point. Younger. Fifty-something, and that’s about right. At say fifty-five, Jesse can still handle the job, physically. What he can’t do is expect very much to come from it, no matter how well he handles it.
For a still young man in his mid-thirties, the job of chief of police of Paradise is a second chance. And he can hope for third and fourth chances if he screws up again. But for a man on the brink of old age, the job is a last chance.
That goes for him personally as well as professionally.
In Innocents Lost, Jesse begins an affair with a beautiful and sexy younger woman. But she’s no kid. She’s around forty, she knows the score, and she’s married. She has no plans to end the marriage, but even if she did, Jesse isn’t a guy she’d end it for. In fact, she makes it clear to him she’s with him because she knows there’s no possibility of their having a future together, mainly because she’s pretty sure Jesse himself hasn’t much of a future.
Parker’s younger Jesse has good reason to believe that if cleans up his act and shakes himself loose from his demons he can have a relatively happy future that might include true and lasting love and a family. He just has to make himself believe it.
But Selleck’s Jesse knows that while there might be hope the odds are against a man of his age---who, thanks to his drinking, is aging faster than other fiftysomethings---finding that kind of happiness. Even if there’s a possibility, he still has to make himself believe he deserves it. And here’s the thing. Selleck’s Jesse is old enough that he might have already found it but he threw it away. We’ve not seen hsi ex-wife Jen yet, she’s been just a voice on the phone in calls made mostly in the dead of night, which means she’s essentially a ghost. We don’t know how old she is. We don’t know how long she and Jesse were married. We suspect she is younger. Which opens up the possibility---the probability---that she was his second chance. There might be another ex-wife out there and children we haven’t heard about. If not, then very likely there’s someone with whom Jesse could have had a family, with whom he should by now sharing grandchildren, but he blew that too, and given that he’s a drunk, it’s likely that he hurt her in blowing it and if that missing family is there he hurt them too.
Selleck’s Stone has never said anything about it, but he sure seems to be carrying around an awful big load of guilt.
Then there’s the drinking. Both Jesses would like to give it up or at least get better control of it. But the older Jesse has to wonder if he has time and even if there’s really a point. Sobriety would be good for him all around, except that why bother if all’s he’s doing is exchanging the debilitations of drink for the debilitations of old age? Why would he want to be able to look at his life with clear eyes if all he’s going to see is his life coming to its end?
Neither Jesse has a death wish, but the TV Jesse doesn’t have any good reason to go on living. In the novels Jesse drinks---or drank---to forget his problems. In the TV series, he might be drinking to end them.
At the opening of Innocents Lost, we learn that Jesse has taken up jogging---he hates jogging. He’s on a diet too. “I’m working on the new me,” he tells people, but Selleck deadpans it and he lets his eyes sneak away to their corners. The idea of a new Jesse is a joke only he finds funny.
What this amounts to is that Parker’s Jesse is a man trying to climb out of hole he’s dug for himself while Selleck’s is a man at the end of his rope.
Selleck doesn’t overplay it but he’s clearly carrying the weight. And there’s another thing. He carries Magnum around with him too. He doesn’t have to do anything to evoke him. We just can’t help remembering. (Parker named the town Paradise ironically, of course, although the irony isn’t that it’s really a hell but that it’s Jesse’s Purgatory, the place where his past sins must be burnt and purged away. But Magnum fans will remember that Magnum, who narrated the shows, often opened episodes by referring to Hawaii as Paradise.) Selleck couldn’t have played Stone when he was in his thirties, and not just because Parker hadn’t written Jesse into existence yet. He was too golden and glowing. And he was too clearly happy and at ease within himself. (He would have made a pretty good Spenser, if Robert Urich wasn’t around making a very good one.) You look at Selleck and you can’t help seeing those roguishly bouncing eyebrows.
Then you look at not Selleck but Selleck's Jesse and start thinking that Stone may once have been like Magnum and you instinctively want to reject the thought. This can’t be where a Magnum ends up!
But of course it can be. It often is. A golden youth doesn’t guarantee a happy old age. What happens in between decides it, and somewhere in between Jesse Stone ruined himself and now he can’t forgive himself for that.
There’s not a lot of self-pity in Selleck’s Jesse but not a lot of self-loathing either. What there is is a cold, hard, unceasing and unforgiving self-judgment. We see him hauling himself before the court of his own conscience to be tried and tried again with the verdict always coming back Guilty as charged!
I’m probably making the series sound like much more of downer than it is. Actually, there’s a lot of fun it and a good deal of humor. And the episodes are smartly directed and beautifully photographed. The writing’s good and the supporting cast is excellent, although I miss Viola Davis as Officer Molly Crane. I don’t know why she left the series, but I hear she’s found other work.
Still, there’s a sadness at the heart of the series. Which I happen to think is what makes the shows compelling.
Jesse Stone: Innocents Lost and all but one of the other Jesse Stone mystery movies are available to watch instantly at Amazon. The missing one is Stone Cold. Note that it’s the only one without “Jesse Stone” in its title. It was the first one made but it falls second in the series’ ongoing storyline. All the movies including Stone Cold are on DVD.
And of course you can find Robert B. Parker's Jesse Stone novels at Amazon too.
Spenser is waiting for you at my aStore.
One-time newspaper man Michael Connelly writes his bestselling mysteries and thrillers in serviceable newspaper reporter prose---clear, strong declarative sentences without poetry, music, nuance, playfulness, or humor.
You don’t have to be able to write a graceful sentence to turn out a gripping and entertaining mystery. It just happens that the best mystery writers are also masterful prose stylists, starting with Raymond Chandler, of course. Then (and I’m just listing Americans) John D. MacDonald. Elmore Leonard. Donald E. Weslake, writing as himself and as Richard Stark. Ross Thomas. Ross McDonald. Rex Stout. Patricia Highsmith. James M. Cain. Robert B. Parker, on his best days in his prime. Walter Mosley when he’s writing for Easy Rawlins. Carl Hiaasen, although, like Parker, on his best days.
And I don’t think their knowing their way around a sentence is something separate from their ability to craft a plot, create characters, and just generally tell a ripping good yarn.
Connelly isn’t in their league, either as a stylist or a storyteller, but it’s unfair to expect him to be. It ought to be enough that he can write a sentence that takes us from point A. to point B, followed by another that takes us from Point B. to Point C. Trouble is, in his new novel, The Drop, in which Connelly brings back Harry Bosch, the Los Angeles police detective who made his reputation, it rarely seems to occur to him that he could write a sentence that short cuts from point C to point G or come up with one that takes the scenic route to point H, that we don’t need to stop at every point in between because we can guess what’s there or know what’s there from the things he’s told us along the way. More annoying, he often backs up and travels between points all over again, sometimes within a few paragraphs of having made the first trip.
In short, he alternates between telling us too much and telling us much too much.
Then he has a habit of ugly-ing up his already less than pretty sentences with unnecessary qualifications, repetitive bits of exposition, and unidiomatic formalisms and cliches that he tosses in as if they’re like nuts and cherries on top of sundaes, expected as added flavor and decoration and if he left them out readers would feel they got cheated out of their whole dessert.
People asked to do something don’t just do it, they “comply.” Something left out doors is “exposed to the elements.” Characters “first and foremost” each other in the course of casual conversation.
It doesn’t suffice it to say that at one point Connelly has his detective hero Harry Bosch actually say “suffice it to say.”
Without self-consciousness, irony, or having ever, in this book or any previous one, giving the impression he’s the kind of person who’d say “suffice it to say.”
Earlier, Harry finishes off a sentence with an unidiomatically placed “you could say.”
Describing his rocky history with a former cop now a city councilman, Harry sums up, “We had a few collisions, you could say.” Someone who grew up speaking American English would put that “you could say” at the beginning of that sentence, but the real point is that it isn’t needed at all. “We had a few collisions” isn’t something you could say. It’s precisely what---and all that--needs to be said.
This kind of needless self-correction that doesn’t correct anything anyway, along with regular elaboration of points that don’t need elaborating goes on throughout The Drop, within the dialog and the narration, with the effect of emphasizing how much one sounds like the other and how both sound awkward, stilted, tone-deaf, and phony.
Several times we’re told that a child molester was castrated in prison and then within a few paragraphs of being told it again , like so:
He got probation and county jail time for the first of two convictions but served six years out of a ten-year sentence at Corcoran State Prison for the third fall. It was there that a barbaric justice was carried out by his fellow inmates.
We get this:
He probably felt he had gotten the better side of things until he was cornered in the laundry at Corcoran, held down and castrated with a shank.
That sentence ends at Corcoran. All the following clause adds is the squirm-inducing and distracting question How do you castrate someone with a sharpened toothbrush?
In another chapter, Harry has a phone conversation with a hotel guest who has some useful information in the form of taxi cab receipt. Harry asks if the man has access to a fax machine. The man tells him there’s a fax machine in his room. Harry asks him to fax him a copy of the receipt. The man says he will be happy to fax it. Harry gives him the number to fax it to. Then he sits and waits until the copy arrives “via fax.”
Because we might have thought it was going to arrive by passenger pigeon.
And I lost count of the passages like the one in which Harry drives to his destination.
And pulls up.
And parks his car.
And turns off the motor.
And opens the car door.
And gets out.
I don’t think I’m nitpicking. Stumbling over repeated evidence that Connelly needs good editors who know their Strunk and White kept me from getting caught up in the plot and that allowed me to notice The Drop’s other, more damaging weaknesses. Minimal character development. No sense of place. (Connelly will take us to and through a neighborhood in paragraphs that read like Google Maps text directions, but he doesn’t take us into these places. We don’t meet the people who live there or get any sense of how they go about their day’s or night’s business. Harry Bosch’s Los Angeles is vague and characterless to the point of being worse than invisible. It’s generic. Harry could be operating in any Big Bad City, USA.) Narration that summarizes when it should be dramatizing. Not one but two mysteries readers are given no emotional stake in seeing solved. And a detective hero who is a self-righteous bore.
Aging and world-weary homicide detective Harry Bosch has found a way to un-retire and come back to work cold cases for the Los Angeles Police Department. The Drop Opens with a routine review of the twenty-year old rape and murder of a college student turning up DNA evidence that connects the victim to a sex offender recently released from prison, the castrated inmate mentioned above. The trouble is the creep preys on little boys and he would have been eight years old at the time the girl was killed.
Harry catches the case but just as he’s setting to work, the chief of police assigns him to another case, one that not only isn’t cold but presents Harry with a body that’s still warm, the apparent suicide of a politically connected lawyer found splattered after a fall from a hotel balcony. The lawyer’s father, that former cop turned powerful city councilman, is convinced his son was murdered, tossed to his death by persons unknown, and despite those, you could say, collisions, he’s asked the chief to put Bosch on the case, because Harry’s the best detective on the LAPD.
So Harry and his partner, a squeamish, insecure, and emotionally volatile young detective named David Chu, who resents how Harry treats him more like an assistant than like an equal partner, find themselves going back and forth chasing leads on one case then the other. Along the way Bosch demonstrates he’s above playing politics and a real “let the chips fall where they may” kind of guy, makes clear his disgust for sexual predators but surprises himself by feeling almost sorry for one, and meets and becomes smitten with Hannah Stone, a psychiatrist who is smitten right back. Unfortunately, she works with sex offenders and is in fact the castrated child molester’s therapist, which complicates things romantically and professionally.
Bosch is in his early sixties. Hannah is about fifteen years younger. But the age difference doesn’t bother him. It barely crosses his mind. It doesn’t occur to him that at his age he may not want or be able to handle the disruptions a love affair will cause. He doesn’t wonder how he will find the time to see Hannah, do his job, and raise his teenage daughter whom he already feels he’s neglecting. He doesn’t ask himself what changes in his routines and his thinking he’ll need to make and if he’s willing to make them or capable of making them. It doesn’t seem to occur to him that he may be too crotchety, too set in his ways, too tired, too cynical, too emotionally worn down, too old. He never worries he might not have the…stamina. Connelly throws in a Viagra reference, but it’s a weak practical joke Harry plays on another cop---without any sense of irony.
The only worry he has about the budding affair is that she has baggage.
It’s not him, it’s her.
And this turns out to be the case with almost every relationship in his life. It’s not Harry, it’s her or him or them.
His partner is timid and needy. His ex-partner, now a right hand to the police chief, has become too political. His lieutenant is incompetent. Other cops are are lazy or dumb or compromised ethically or morally. Everybody comes up short compared to Harry by Harry. Bosch is not un-self-critical, but he never judges himself wanting compared to others, only in comparison to idealized self.
He’s a sanctimonious prig.
The exception is his fifteen year old daughter Maddie, but she doesn’t count because she’s such a fantasy, an intellectual feminist man’s dream of a daughter. Maddie is smart, sassy, active, independent, ambitious, impossibly well-adjusted, and at an age when most high school girls are beginning to come into their own sexually, the only man in her life is her daddy and she wants to be just like him when she grows up. Maddie appears more often in the book than any of the suspects in either of Harry’s cases, but her basic function is to tell us over and over again that, despite Harry’s worries and self-doubts, he’s a truly wonderful guy.
It’s been a long time since I read any other novels in the Bosch series but I don’t remember Harry Bosch being a wonderful guy.
In fact, I thought the point was that he wasn’t a wonderful guy, and he was a good cop because he wasn’t wonderful---he was good at his job because being good at a job was all he had to hold onto.
Oh well. People change. Bosch seems to have changed for what I guess is the better. I just don’t see it as an improvement.
Bosch, the child of a murdered mother, a Vietnam vet who apparently arrived in country with PTSD---Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder---was an angry guy. But in The Drop he’s become a Last Angry Man and, consequently, boring in the way the self-congratulatory noble can be.
Finally, though, when all else fails, a detective novel stands or falls on the crime the detective hero has to solve. There are two crimes in The Drop but neither one grips. We’re shut out of the story behind the suicide (or was it murder?) because Harry is shut out of it. It’s really a domestic tragedy that Harry can play no part in because it’s not his family, but it’s also a political melodrama that unfolds almost entirely out of Harry’s sight or even awareness because his job keeps him out of the rooms where the politicians wheel and deal and Harry makes it a point of pride to avoid those rooms anyway.
The second crime is potentially more involving because it confronts Harry and therefore us directly with the question of what turns a person into a monster. But then instead of exploring the question by showing the transformation of a person into a monster Harry (and we) might then identify or sympathize with, Connelly goes and introduces a ready-made monster for us to loathe, fear, and despise on sight, no discomfiting questions about the nature of good and evil asked. Harry is given a serial killer to track down before he strikes again whom he can chase with a clear conscience, untroubled by any challenges to his moral prejudices or self-regard.
I don’t know why every writer of TV shows, movies, and hasn’t figured out it out yet, but serial killers are boring villains.
Dexter is a hero.
As I was saying, Wednesday’s march was peaceful and orderly and, as far as I could tell or have heard since, kettling and pepper spray free from start to finish. I was already boarding the bus for home when the batons came out over at Wall Street and Broadway Wednesday night. But I did see one person get into it with the cops.
He wasn’t a protester. He was a driver for a car service. This was on Church Street. I was hurrying away from Liberty Park to catch the bus for home and came upon him just as he was hopping out of his black sedan to start shouting at a bicyclist he clearly felt had done him wrong.
He was a heavyset character around thirty whose opened black suit jacket probably wouldn’t button over his broad expanse of white shirt. His black hair was neat and cut short. He was mad as all get out but he also looked scared, as if in a collision between a bike and a car the car would get the worst of it and so he’d just seen his life flash before his eyes. More likely, of course, he was terrified at having come close to running her over. Or he was thinking of how he might have had to explain the dings and dents in the car to his boss. Whatever it was, he was not happy and he was letting her know it and half of downtown Manhattan along with her.
His car was stopped at a slight angle in the middle of the street. The bicyclist was straddling her bike, facing him, her front wheel about half a foot from his right front fender. If I had to guess what’d just happened, I’d guess she was in the wrong. She’d either crossed over where she shouldn’t have and cut him off or tried to nose out to when she shouldn’t have and he’d barely missed flattening her. It was possible, though, that she’d been headed in the right direction and he’d come up behind her and she had her bike turned around in order to explain to him how it’s impolite for drivers of cars to try to run riders on bikes off the road. Whatever was the case, he didn’t want to hear her side of it.
He cursed her out royally.
Then he cursed out the first cop who’d wandered over to see what the problem was.
Then he cursed out the hipster passing by on the sidewalk who’d instantly taken the bicyclist’s side and was cursing him out.
Then he cursed out those of us who’d stopped to gawk.
Then he went back to cursing out the cop.
Then he cursed out the other officers who came over to ask the first cop what the problem is.
You might think it’s a bad idea to lose your temper with a police officer when you’re in a part of town where there are at least a dozen other officers in sight the first can call on for backup.
But at least with citizens who aren’t carrying protest signs New York City cops are remarkably patient and understanding.
So if you’re wondering how many cops you can tell to go fuck themselves and fuck off and shut the fuck up and let you talk without getting arrested, the answer is apparently five.
Assuming you aren’t carrying a protest sign.
Nice waking up Thursday morning still a free man. Of course I really had no expectation of waking up anything but. Just about everyone I told I was going down to Occupy Wall Street Wednesday with the Teamsters made a joke about my getting arrested. Several good friends told me to call them in the event, promising they’d put up bail money. But, truth is, I felt that even considering the possibility I might end up in the slammer was self-romanticizing. How likely was it to happen? The protesters have shown from the beginning they’re determined to keep things peaceful and non-confrontational, so if things got out of hand it would have to be that cops got out of hand, again, and I figured they’d be anxious not to make that mistake again. They knew they’d embarrassed themselves with the pepper spraying and the mass arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge and the City already had one class action suit to deal with, so the police were bound to be extra careful, especially considering that the odds were that every other person they’d haul in on Wednesday would be Union. It’s one thing to be seen on the news arresting dirty hippies and slacker college kids, something else to be seen cuffing teamsters, ironworkers, electricians, pilots, nurses, school teachers, and classical musicians. Besides, one of the benefits of belonging to a union is access to very good, and very fast-working, lawyers.
At any rate, the march was orderly to the point of making crowds at Disneyland look unruly. Orderly to the point that for long stretches it stopped being a march at all and became more like a very long queue at the DMV. We weren’t parading, we were taking part in a twenty-thousand foot group shuffle. If you’ve seen Metropolis and remember the scene of the workers on their way into work, that’s how it felt from inside the crowd.
People around me complained that the police were slowing things down deliberately and trying to make us frustrated and impatient by squeezing in the steel barricades and narrowing the designated marching lanes. Some thought the object was to back things up in order to annoy would-be marchers still stuck in Foley Square in hopes they would get tired of waiting to start marching and go home. Others thought the cops wanted us to make us antsy and irritable so that we’d start to push and shove and break out of line, giving them the excuse to start making arrests and busting heads. People pointed to apparently empty city buses parked along side streets and warned each other to be ready. But I think it was just the case that it’s very tricky to move ten or more thousand people through downtown at rush hour without shutting the city down.
The cops we passed along the route weren’t giving anything away. They were mostly stone-faced and seemed determined to avoid eye contact. They were probably under orders not to let themselves get baited by jerks like the one Sam Graham-Felson saw waving a sign in a cop’s face that read "Quick, sell everything and invest in pepper spray." I didn’t see any jerks like that anywhere around me. Considering who was marching, what a cop was likely to hear from any protesters who wanted to engage was a reminder that police are Union too, fellow members of the 99%, whose jobs, pensions, and benefits are being threatened by the corporate tools in Washington and the state houses all across the country. Right at that moment, up in Albany, supposed Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo was trying to browbeat the Public Employees Federation into paying for his deal with Republicans to cut taxes for millionaires with either big chunks of their paychecks and pensions or 3500 member jobs, take your pick.
Mostly, though, it seemed the marchers were as determined to pretend that the police weren’t there as the cops were determined to pretend the marchers weren’t there. I did talk to some cops, but at the end of the march, after we’d reached Liberty Park and I had to hurry to catch the Teamsters bus for home. The cops opened up a gateway in the barricades and let people stream through onto Church Street.
“Thank you, officers,” I said.
“You’re welcome,” replied a tall, apple-checked, broadly smiling young patrolman who looked as though he was barely out of college, “You have a good evening, sir.”
Other officers nodded and smiled. I thought they seemed relieved that it was all over for the day.
Turned out it wasn’t over. People did get arrested. Twenty-eight were hauled in. You probably know that Occupy Wall Street isn’t actually occupying Wall Street. Wall Street is off-limits for marches and protests and large gatherings of any kind and has been since 9/11. [See editor’s note at bottom of post.] But after the march, a group of protesters decided they would challenge that and they broke through some barricades and started in that direction.
Unless they were idiots, I’m pretty sure they wanted to spend the night in jail. That’s part of the point of civil disobedience. I’m not sure what the rest of their point was.
But they pretty much asked to get arrested, and the police obliged.
The night sticks and the pepper-spray were lagniappe.
Notice it looks like the white shirts were at it again.
I expect that a lot of the people arrested Wednesday were back on Thursday.
Thanks to Gary Farber.
Editor’s note: That Wall Street itself has been “off-limits” for large gatherings and mass demonstrations since 9/11 is one of those things I just “know.” But prompted by a question from Ken Muldrew in the comments, I went googling for a story that would explain things and turned up zilch. Instead I found news articles reporting that the City had declared Wall Street off-limits in the lead up to Occupy Wall Street. Wall Street has been closed to traffic and there’s been a heavy police presence round the clock. If anybody can explain how come I “know” something that isn’t there to be known, I’d appreciate it.
Also, the updated figure on the number of people arrested is 27.
Our old pal Nance on Texas Department of Corrections’ recent decision not to offer condemned prisoners their choice for a last meal anymore:
We give a condemned man a choice of last meal…because we’re better than the condemned. On the last day of his life, we’re extending the little niceties of civilization as a way of showing the man about to die what he rejected. We let him meet with a clerical representative of his choice to show we live by the values we kept and he rejected.
Not any more. Enjoy your macaroni and cheese.
I’m sorry to have to note that this change in policy was instigated by a Democrat.
Skim this article by Jessica Pressler in New York Magazine until your eyes light on this, and you might think what you’re reading is an old review of Carl Hiaasen’s Strip Tease:
“I was pretty surprised, to be honest,” says one former dancer, whom we’ll call by her former Scores name, Heather, since she’s now married to a doctor and living in a small Christian town in the Midwest. At the same time she was dating Starr, Passage was dating other wealthy, eligible men, including a record producer and a celebrity chef. “But I guess Ken was kind of her knight in shining armor that was going to give her a better life,” Heather says. “I mean, you can’t dance forever.”
A former stripper married to a doctor and now living in a “Christian” town in the Midwest? Come on, Carl. That’s pushing it.
But it’s not Hiaasen. It’s not fiction. It’s real. Part of the story of Diane Passage, a former dancer who married a high-rolling money manager with a speed dial list of celebrity clients on his cell and went from shaking it at bachelor parties to mingling with Hollywood royalty at Oscar parties. Passage, whom Pressler describes as:
one of those people that it feels like New York invented, though they thrive wherever male egos and dumb money coexist. She’s the kind of woman who is able, through physical charms, nifty tricks of persuasion, and sheer gall, to inspire men to pay for … well, everything. She’s like Holly Golightly, if Holly Golightly had to kick a guy in the nuts when she went to the powder room. Which, in postrecession New York, she might have…
was living the life of “Cinderfuckingella” until:
…federal agents showed up at their apartment and arrested Starr. The SEC and the U.S. Attorney’s office had charged him with conducting a massive Ponzi scheme. “It’s a mistake,” he told her, after the cops dragged him out of the bedroom closet. But it wasn’t. Documents showed Starr had embezzled $33 million from clients. Passage was named as a co-defendant, and her bank account was frozen. It was as if her fairy godmother had suddenly reappeared and said, “Sorry, wrong girl.”
In the days after Starr’s arrest, the tabloid reporters camped outside the Lux heard an agonized wail coming from inside. “I’ve done nothing,” said the female voice. “Now I have nothing.”
This March, Passage, now 35, sat in a courtroom and listened as a judge with glasses and Janet Reno hair pronounced her husband guilty. “He seemed to have lost his moral compass,” the judge said, “partly as a result of infatuation with his young fourth wife.”
Things haven’t been so hot for her since, although she’s been able to keep up her spirits and maintain a sense of humor, as you’ll see when you read Pressler’s article, A Holly Golightly for the Stipper-Embezzlement Age.
Photo by Patrick McMullan, New York Magazine.
Radio City Music Hall circa January 1957, just about the time the Mad Bomber of New York was finally captured. The bomber planted several pipe bombs in Radio City over the years. In 1954, one of them went off during a showing of White Christmas, injuring five people. In 1953, one went off while the bomber was still in the theater. An usher stopped him as he was running for the door---to apologize for the interruption.
There were eight million stories in the naked city. The Mad Bomber of New York: The Extraordinary True Story of the Manhunt That Paralyzed a City by Michael M. Greenburg is one of them.
I probably shouldn’t have enjoyed a book about a paranoid lunatic setting off pipe bombs all over the naked city as much as I enjoyed The Mad Bomber of New York. I almost certainly shouldn’t have enjoyed it as if it was an extended episode of the old TV show.
And I’m a little surprised at myself for enjoying it despite its being filled with passages like this:
The long shadows of the day now began to submerge Manhattan in their cold December gloom. The early dusk of winter had cast its tenebrous veil upon the office, though the men had seemingly failed to notice. Nearly four hours had passed, and a rising sentiment of hope seemed to infuse the air like vivid sunlight. The faceless ghost that the New York police had so painstakingly sought through the years had, at last, taken shape---and a technique, developed through history as a curious blend of science and intuition, had suddenly come of age in the office of a New York crime psychiatrist.
But regular eruptions of breathless and purple prose are part of what makes The Mad Bomber of New York so enjoyable. It’s a story of the Big Apple in the ‘40s and ‘50s and the Tabloid forced urgency and canned grittiness of the writing seems not just appropriate but integral. It’s as if the New York of the period was built out of screaming headlines over lurid newspaper stories of scandal, crime, murder, gossip, and heartwarming mawkishness as much as out of steel and concrete. The other boroughs had their accents and idioms. Manhattan had a tone and a style, smart, fast, tough, belligerent and boisterous, just a notch down on the dial from a shout, off-handedly romantic, inadvertently sentimental in the way only people who are soft-hearted about everything but especially themselves are sentimental, ironically poetic.
Now I’m doing it.
What The Mad Bomber of New York is missing is people who speak with that tone and in that style, who live it out, who are self-created by it.
What the book has instead is a single person who creates a little circle of quiet around himself that somehow implies the shouts of eight million others.
Ironically, this person has given himself the mission of being very loud all on his own.
For about sixteen years, from 1940 through 1956, a seemingly mild-mannered, middle-aged, ex-Marine, unemployed utility worker, and semi-invalid from Waterbury, Connecticut waged a one-man terrorist campaign in New York City where over those years he planted at least thirty-three pipe bombs of his own design and devising around Manhattan and Brooklyn. Twenty-two of them went off and, all tolled, fifteen people were injured.
George Metesky had been working for Consolidated Edison in 1931 when a vapor leak from a boiler blasted his lungs with hot gases. While he was out of work recovering, he developed pneumonia and then tuberculosis which so debilitated him that he was never able to return to his job. For reasons he could never understand or accept, he was denied workman’s compensation. He was forced to live off the support of and under the constant care of his two doting older sisters in the shabby family home in Waterbury where he often spent whole days in bed, unable to take a decent breath.
The power plant where Metesky worked, by the way, was called Hell Gate.
You can’t make these things up.
Metesky blamed Con Ed for the accident, then blamed them further for the denial of his claim. He became convinced that the denial was the result of a plot against him. Whenever he could muster the energy, he filled his time writing hundreds and hundreds of angry letters to anyone he thought might be in on the plot. He estimated his letters totaled close to 800,000 words in all. He wrote to executives at Consolidated Edison, to New York City and New York State officials, tothe mayor’s and the governor’s offices, to newspapers. A typical letter went:
You know, I just refuse to be robbed by the law, or a Power Trust, of my health, my ability to earn a living, the best years of my life, my advancement in the world…You are paying me what is due me, or you are telling me why not. Said reason better be AIR TIGHT. If there is any TREACHERY, or DOUBLE-CROSSING, I may assume the role of JUDGE JURY AND EXECUTIONER, and straighten matters out. I am done fooling around with SCUM.
He kept it up for years, never receiving so much in reply, he complained “as a single penny postal card”. At some point he concluded that he needed to do something drastic and dramatic to call attention to his cause. He decided he needed to make some noise.
He planted his first bomb in September of 1940.
It was found before it went off.
He planted his second bomb in November of 1941.
It was found before it went off.
He didn’t plant another bomb until 1946.
He held off out of a sense of patriotism.
On December 7, 1941, with the United States about to enter World War II, Metesky wrote nine letters. He wrote to the managers of Bloomingdales, Bonds Clothes, the Capitol Theatre, Radio City Music Hall, the Roxy Theatre, the Strand Theatre, the Astor Hotel, and the Hotel Commodore. In the last of them he concluded with this:
I WILL MAKE NO MORE BOMB UNITS FOR THE DURATION OF THE WAR---MY PATRIOTIC FEELINGS HAVE MADE ME DECIDE THIS---LATER I WILL BRING THE CON-ED TO JUSTICE---THEY WILL PAY FOR THEIR DASTARDLY DEEDS…
He signed it as he would sign all his letters from now on, F.P.'
It stood for Fair Play.
In 1946, he felt his duty to his country was discharged (my pun) and he was free to resume his “mission” (his word). He began planting more bombs.
He later claimed that over the next five years he planted twenty-four bombs---he called them “units.” None of them went off. None of them were ever found.
The target of Metesky’s first two bombs had been the buildings owned by Con Ed. But now:
With the advent of postwar suburban life and effortless automobile travel…interstate rail service had begun to decline, and by the early 1950s the condition of the once majestic [Grand Central Terminal] had suffered greatly, prompting murmurs of its possible demolition. among the many legends and architectural oddities of Grand Central that had survived, however, was the so-called Whispering Gallery that lay beneath the tiled Guastavino arches, extending across the ceilings of the lower concourse in front of the famous Oyster Bar, a seafood restaurant that opened in 1913 with the inauguration of the station itself. Created by the low ceramic structures of the domed ceiling, the unique architectural design allowed even faint whispers in one corner of the gallery to heard clearly and distinctly across the expanse to the other.
As George Matesky stole into the lower level of Grand Central Terminal in the early afternoon of March 29, 1951, and placed his latest edition of revenge in a cigarette sand urn outside of the Oyster Bar, the acoustical quirk of the Whispering Gallery carried his footfalls throughout the passageway. The later explosive blast would fill the area with the same force and avid resolve as Metesky now brought to his reborn cause.
The bomb exploded at height of rush hour, spraying sand and shards of debris. No one was hurt. The police came and scratched their heads. There was nothing left of the bomb to study for clues as to who made it. The New York Times, in a story buried on page 24, reported that the police thought the bomb was the handiwork of some “pranksters.” Nobody made a connection to the bombs that didn’t go off outside the Con Ed buildings a decade before.
Metesky made the connection for people.
From March of ‘51 through December of ‘56, Metesky’s pipe bombs exploded at various locations around the City. A bomb went off in Radio City Music Hall during a showing of White Christmas. Another bomb went off in Pennsylvania Station. Another in a car dealership. Still another in a phone booth in Port Authority Bus Terminal. Two more were planted in Grand Central, one of them tearing up a men’s room. Two bombs went off in the Lexington Movie Theater. Metesky liked targeting movie theaters. He’d buy a ticket, sit down to watch the show for a few minutes, then take out a knife, slit the cushion of a seat next to him, stuff his bomb in the cushion, and leave. His last bomb went off in the Paramount Theater in Brooklyn, during a showing of War and Peace.
A security guard at the RCA Building in Rockefeller Center (Better known as 30 Rock.) found one but didn’t figure out what it was. He gave it to a friend who took it home, thinking it was a harmless piece of pipe he could put to use somehow. He left it on the kitchen table overnight. At six in the morning it exploded. Fortunately, the whole family was still in bed and all it did to them was wake them up.
He planted a bomb in a phone booth in the main branch of the New York Public Library but a librarian, going to make a phone call, dropped his dime and getting down on his knees to look for it, found the bomb under the seat in the booth. Not knowing what it was, he picked it up and examined it. Pretty soon he was running through the halls with the bomb that he finally threw out a back window into the grass in Bryant Park behind the library where it lay until the bomb squad arrived.
All along Metesky continued to send out his angry letters explaining why he was doing what he was doing, warning he planned to keep on doing it until he received justice.
Ironically, for several years, the police and the media wouldn’t do the one thing that might have caused Metesky to stop, respond to him and his letters.
It’s not that they ignored the bombings. But they agreed to pretend to the public that they weren’t what they knew them to be, the work of a single madman. The papers covered the story as stories, reporting on each explosion as if it was just one of those random crimes that big cities had to put up with as a matter of course.
This may explain why my mother-in-law, born and raised in Queens, a young woman working in the City during the Mad Bomber’s most, um, productive years, has only the dimmest memory of what Greenburg’s subtitle calls “the manhunt that paralyzed a city.” For a long time, the City’s residents didn’t know they should be paralyzed. If she even saw the newspaper stories buried in the back pages, she'd have been pretty much assured that the explosions were no big deals and forgotten about them quickly the way she’d have forgotten specific stories about muggings and liquor store hold-ups in which no one got hurt or hurt badly. Amazingly, no one who was caught in one of Metesky’s explosions was critically injured. On the day after one of his pipe bombs went off, the papers would likely feature stories of other crimes that caused more blood and heartache.
It’s interesting to me that I’d never heard the story before I came across the book. I’d thought I was pretty well up on New York City true crime lore. But this may be why I had a hard time reading The Mad Bomber of New York as a true crime story. I don’t have any facts stowed away that I can use to ground Greenburg’s storytelling in the historical New York I’ve got built in my head. But it’s also the case that Greenburg doesn’t tell the story in a way that makes it real.
Which isn’t to say that I don’t believe what he writes or that I doubt his research. It’s a matter of the writing. And I’m not talking about the many passages that of tabloid journalese. Greenburg doesn’t include enough of the sort of idiosyncratic details that make places and persons come alive on the page. There are plenty of details, but they are second and third-hand and seemed borrowed. And the sources they seem to be most often borrowed from are movies.
The problem is that few of the people involved are still alive to tell their stories to any writer who wants to go after those details. Few of the ones now gone left personal accounts of what was going on around them. Greenburg routinely had to resort to interviewing people who knew people who people. For contemporaneous accounts, Greenburg mostly had to rely on police and medical reports and court documents, not the most scintillating reading, and newspaper stories, and since the new journalism wouldn’t be invented until the early 60s, newspaper reporting tended to be Times-gray dull or Scandal Sheet loud and hysterical but rarely well-written. The voices that speak to us out of those records and newspapers are either stilted and impersonal or canned.
Without any truly personal points of view to show us the City as it looked and felt to people who lived in it at the time, the glimpses of New York Greenburg gives us often read like the verbal equivalent of what in the days before filmmakers could build virtual realities out of cgi was called stock footage. And while Greenburg does his best to draw realistic sketches of them, his characters insist on coming to life not as their real selves but as characters in a movie from the period based on “real events.” Maybe it was just me, but even though there are plenty of photographs of the real place and real people, I kept seeing studio back lots filled with the likes of great character actors like William Demarest, William Frawley, Sam Jaffe, John McIntire, J.Pat O’Malley, Thelma Ritter, Ellen Corby and Margaret Hamiltion (those last two as Metesky’s over-protective sisters). There are no leading roles for Dana Andrews or John Payne or Gloria Grahame or Jean Hagen, unfortunately, or the story of the Mad Bomber really could have been a movie from back then. It could still be a good movie.
The one character who seems most real, who comes alive as the person he might really have been is Metesky.
Of course, Metesky was the focus of attention for a great many people whose job it was to write down his every word, cops, lawyers, reporters, doctors. And then there are all those letters.
Strangely, he doesn’t come across as mad.
He was. He was a textbook case, a paranoid schizophrenic who was somehow able to hide his symptoms for decades from everyone who knew him. The accident at Hell Gate and the denial of his workman’s comp claims didn’t drive him insane. He reacted to those events as an insane person. But insanity was only visible to strangers who read his letters. One on one, he was quiet, amiable, usually polite if not overly friendly. He was noticeably quirky, tended to keep to himself, but he was always neat and presentable, and it was easy enough to attribute his little oddnesses as stemming from his illness.
Poor guy has to spend so much time in bed, no wonder he’s grown a little peculiar.
He was something else. Intelligent. He didn’t finish high school---he dropped out because, he told his family, school didn’t interest him; probably, though, he was beginning to suffer the early stages of his schizophrenia---but he had training as a machinist and a mechanic and he was a self-taught electrician. He was also an inventor and even held a patent on “a piston-driven circuit breaker for connecting and interrupting the electrical circuit of a solenoid pump.” His pipe bombs were of his own design and he worked diligently at refining and improving those designs. Their triggering mechanisms and timing devices impressed detectives on the bomb squad.
And he was methodical, meticulous, careful, and thoughtful. So much so that while I was reading about them his plans and crimes began to seem…sensible.
He routinized what he did and went about it in a way that was almost responsible. Not in a moral or ethical sense, of course. But in a way that very much like that of a sane man doing his job. Add to this the fact that he really had been wronged or had good reason to feel wronged and I found myself almost rooting for him not to get caught or at least to not get caught in the rather banal and anticlimactic way he finally was caught.
The police department’s and the media’s determination to downplay his bombings and to ignore his letters infuriated Metesky and drove him to increase the attacks and make his bombs more powerful. And then, one day, in 1956, the crusading editor of the New York Journal-American, Seymour Berkman, got the idea that what the Mad Bomber seemed to want more than anything was attention. This happened to coincide with advise the police had gotten from an eminent psychiatrist they had gone to for some insight into the character of whoever was building and planting these bombs. With the cooperation of the police, the Journal-American published one of Metesky’s letters (carefully edited to remove details that copy cats might latch onto) and then published the editor’s reply calling upon the Mad Bomber to give himself up.
Metesky responded. Things went back and forth, with the Journal-American publishing the Mad Bomber’s “story” as Metesky gave it to them, until one day he wrote this:
THANKS VERY MUCH FOR YOUR EFFORT…THE BOMBINGS WILL NEVER BE RESUMED---COME WHAT MAY---YOU PEOPLE HAVE LET THE PEOPLE KNOW---MY PART OF THE STORY---I CANNOT ASK FOR MUCH MORE.
He didn’t turn himself in, exactly. But he offered the City a “truce” and he followed up with letters that revealed more about him and facts and details behind his grievances that provided the police with important clues.
I’m not giving anything away the ending of the book. Metesky’s capture occurs with more than a hundred pages left in the book. With the arrest of Metesky, The Mad Bomber of New York turns from a crime story into a human interest story, and a sad one.
Relieved by his capture of having to pretend he was another sort of person, Metesky was free to be himself and it was clear to everyone except one stubborn judge that he was clinically insane and mentally incompetent to stand trial. To start with, he was shockingly happy in custody. It really had been all about calling attention to his “cause.” He was glad to be able to talk about it, volubly and at length with as many people who were willing to listen. And whenever he talked it was clear that his crimes weren’t real to him. He didn’t understand them as crimes. As far as he was concerned, all he was guilty of was “making a loud noise in a public place.” He claimed to have taken care that no one would be killed or even hurt by his bombs, but it was really dumb luck that no one had died and it didn’t register with him when it was pointed out that despite his supposed care and concern people had been hurt.
All that seemed to matter to him was that now, at last, he was going to receive justice for all that he’d suffered.
It didn’t work out that way.
Metesky was never tried for a single crime nor was he ever officially declared insane, which would have meant commitment to a psychiatric hospital for treatment. Instead he was left to languish in the hellish Mattewan State Prison for the criminally insane for sixteen years.
In the end, then, The Mad Bomber of New York isn’t a police procedural or a book-length tabloid-style newspaper story or even like the kind of movie I couldn’t help seeing it as in my head. It is like an extended episode of Naked City in that the focus isn’t on the crime but on the criminal and on the criminal as one of his own victims. The Mad Bomber of New York is the biography of a nobody, a sad, physically and mentally ill little man the world would just as soon not notice who can think of no other way to make it pay attention and admit that he exists and that his existence has significance except by making a very, very loud noise.
Photos of Radio City Music Hall and George Metesky under arrest from LIFE Magazine via Google Books. Photo of The Whispering Gallery and the Oyster Bar courtesy of PBS. The photograph of the dead body in the barber shop is from the New York Daily News and the body is that of mob boss Albert Anastasia, head of Murder Inc., who was gunned down in October of 1957, the year George Metesky’s career as the Mad Bomber of New York came to an end.
The Mad Bomber of New York: The Extraordinary True Story of the Manhunt That Paralyzed a City by Michael M. Greenburg, published by Union Square Press is available from Amazon in hardback. Sorry, kids, no kindle edition yet.
A little run of the mill road rage carried over into a parking lot.
You’re at the mall, looking for a place to park. You eye a slot, you’re all set to pull in, somebody else slides their car in ahead of you. What choice do you have?
Police say Peralo confronted a 43-year-old man over a parking spot about 5 p.m. March 27.
He was carrying a .32-caliber Beretta in a holster.
You don’t want to pull the gun. You know better than that. You just want to show the bum took your slot he’s messed with the wrong guy.
At no time did Peralo pull the gun out. Police say Peralo has a permit for the weapon.
But maybe the jerk isn’t impressed by a holstered gun. So you goose it a little. You want him to worry he’s maybe in a world of trouble.
"He had it secured in his holster," said Sgt. Harry Baumann of the Clarkstown police. "He said, 'I am a police officer and I will shoot you.'"
Thing you should’ve considered is that maybe somebody’s going to call the cops on you. And if they do and the cops come, there’d better not be anything in your car worth their attention.
Police searched Peralo's SUV and found narcotic and muscle relaxant pills in a zip-close bag. Peralo also had two photocopies of forged drivers' licenses with changed names and addresses, Baumann said…
…Police said they found 43 hydrocodone pills and 94 pills of the muscle relaxant carisoprodol.
Luckily, you got an explanation for how you happen to have all those pills in your possession.
Baumann said Peralo told officers he runs a free pain clinic on Wednesdays. Peralo practices in Ferndale and Middletown with the Catskill Orange Orthopedics group. On a website, Peralo also lists himself as the police surgeon for the Monticello PBA and was carrying a New York state police surgeon badge when he was arrested.
You run a pain clinic? You have a practice? You’re a doctor?
You’re a doctor with a whole bunch of pain pills and fake IDs in your car and you threaten to shoot somebody while pretending to be a police officer? And you see this working out for you how?
Charles Peralo, 46, an orthopedic surgeon, was charged with two felonies and several misdemeanors, say Town of Clarkstown police.
Read the whole of Victor Whitman’s story of the doctor’s arrest at the Times Herald-Record, Sullivan doctor faces felonies after parking flap.
I like the last line.
A receptionist on Monday said Peralo was not in the office but she would get a message to him to call.
Registration encouraged but not required.
NEW YORK – Police are looking for the person who tunneled through a wall into a New York City apartment while the owner was away around Thanksgiving and made off with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of artworks by Andy Warhol and other notable artists.
Two receptionists at our doctor’s office remind me of the iconic Greek masks of Tragedy and Comedy. They’re stationed at more or less opposite windows along the glassed-in counter that angles in a way that suggests that if the carpenter who built it had been allowed to keep going he’d have completed a pentagon so that receptionists sit with their backs to each other and, as far as I’ve been able to tell, spend their days with no awareness of each other’s company. Each deals with her separate onslaught of patients, paperwork, doctors and nurses, drug company sales reps, and constantly ringing phones. They might as well be in two different offices or two different worlds. In a way they are. One lives in a tragic world. The other in a comic one.
Probably more accurate to say the first lives in a soap opera, the second lives in a sitcom.
For the first receptionist, life is a series of crises and must be lived at the edge of emotional breakdown.
For the second receptionist, life is a series of potentially funny stories to be told around the dinner table or over coffee with friends with their own funny stories to tell.
The first receptionist is in her early forties, with striking Italian features, black eyes, and glossy dark brown hair. When she was young people would have said she was beautiful in a fiery Mediterranean way, although they probably always added when they weren’t talking to her, “Almost as pretty as…” and if her temper and temperament were like they are now they’d have also added, “She’d be prettier if she smiled more.” She might still be attractive, if it weren’t for the clamped jaw, the pinched lips, and the angry glaring eyes, not to mention the sharp, tight voice that always sounds on the verge of giving a good scolding.
She is not blessed with people skills. Once I called in to ask to have a prescription renewed and she lectured me on how I should have called earlier, as soon as I saw that I was running low.
The second receptionist is in her fifties. There’s gray in her sandy brown hair. She is short and round-shouldered and shapeless. Her voice is little and squeaky and she has a bit of a lisp. She was never pretty. But she is always cheerful, always helpful, and if her voice is on the verge of anything, it’s a laugh at her own expense.
Yesterday, I’m in the waiting room and two cops walk in.
This is not unexpected.
For the last ten or fifteen minutes the first receptionist has been in crisis mode because she’s had to field several phone calls from the security company for the building asking why there’s an alarm going off.
The first receptionist has three responses.
Call One. There’s no alarm going off. If there was an alarm going off, she’d know it. Since she doesn’t, it isn’t, so she’s being bothered for nothing. She’s busy. She has to go.
Call Two. This time she argues that if she doesn’t hear an alarm but they insist there’s one going on anyway they must be lying. She doesn’t say this flat out. She says it by asking questions in a tone that accuses them of lying. Who is this calling? What makes them think there’s an alarm going off anyway? Why are they calling her? Who told them to call her anyway? Alarms going off must be somebody else’s problem, the building manager’s maybe, but not hers. Goodbye.
Call Three. Stop calling her. She doesn’t know what they’re talking about. She doesn’t know anything about alarms. She’s busy. She doesn’t have time to deal with this. She’s hanging up.
In between these calls she’s been on the phone with two patients, one of whom refuses to understand that it doesn’t matter how sick her son is there are no available appointments until mid-afternoon. The other has questions about his billing that the receptionist answered to her own satisfaction both times he called yesterday and that she now thinks imply that she’s screwed up his paperwork when most likely it was him or his doctor.
To deal with his complaints, she has to put him on hold---the phone pays for this with a sharp jab from her finger---stomp to the rows of file cabinets at the back of the office, stomp back, and stop in the middle of the room before returning to her chair to announce, “That’s it. I’m letting everybody know. I’m out of here at one sharp. For my birthday! My resume’s going out everywhere tomorrow. I can’t put up with this. We need strong leadership and we’re not getting any!”
I don’t know if it’s the calls from the patients or the calls from the security company or both or something else entirely or if it’s just the scheduled time for this announcement. Clock in at 7:30. First meltdown of the morning 8:15.
This is about when the cops arrive.
Couple of middle-aged guys, one bald, the other gray, neither happy. You don’t put in twenty, twenty-five years so that you can cruise your final few years to your pension working days because you look forward to being called to check out alarms going off at doctors’ offices first thing in the morning. Burglar alarms going off at eight a.m. usually mean someone has punched in a wrong code or walked in or out a door that’s supposed to stay shut. But it might mean somebody’s so strung out and desperate for money for their next fix that daytime armed robbery makes perfect sense.
The second receptionist sits at the window closest to the front door but she’s busy checking in a patient so they walk right past her and up to the first receptionist’s window, frowning, hands on their gunbelts, their jaws tight and their chins tucked in as if they’d like to pull their heads down inside their Kevlar vests.
The first receptionist greets them with a startled yelp and then meets their frowns with a more severe one of her own. “Oh great!” she says. If she was a Shakespearean queen she’d have said, “What fresh misery is this?” She isn’t but she packs all that heroic emotion into saying, “What are you doing here?” It’s not as if she can’t guess that their presence most likely connects with the phone calls from the security company. It’s more the case that she prefers to break down a crises into little, separate crises.
More valves to open on her anger and frustration.
When the cops ask about the alarm she throws up her hands. “This again? I told them. Nobody here knows about any alarms going off.” And she throws herself into her chair, swivels around to start typing on her computer, her back now to the cops, who turn their frowns on each other and exchange questioning and irritable glances. Then they wait.
The first receptionist doesn’t turn around. She hunches more intently over her keyboard.
The cops wait some more.
The first receptionist makes it clear from the set of her shoulders that if they’re waiting for her they’ve got a very long wait ahead.
But by now the second receptionist has a free moment and calls the cops over to her.
She sorts everything out in a minute.
The alarm was set off in another office at the other end of the building. The person they need to talk to is the office manager there. She stands up to use both arms to direct them through the labyrinthine hallways to where they need to go. The cops thank her and leave.
In the meantime, the first receptionist has gotten into a tense conversation with a nurse in scrubs who is either the manager of this office or who has been delegated by one of the doctors to let the first receptionist that some paperwork has gone awry and a patient has called to complain. I can’t tell if it’s the same patient the receptionist dealt with earlier. What I can tell is that the nurse, as tactfully and patiently as she can, is taking the patient’s side. The first receptionist can tell this too.
“Patients,” she says, not quietly, “Need to take some responsibility for themselves!”
“Shhh!” says the nurse.
The first receptionist lowers her voice so I don’t hear the rest of the discussion. But it appears to me that the nurse loses by giving up and walking away, probably having realized that there’s nowhere to go but onto tears or temper tantrums.
Things quiet down after this. The time comes for me to take my patient back to school. As we’re getting ready to leave, the second receptionist is hanging up her phone.
“They hung up on me” she says with a laugh in her voice. “They put me on hold for ten minutes and then they hang up on me.” She smiles, shakes her head, and redials.
On the tragedy side of the office, two more nurses have come to the first receptionist’s desk. They aren’t there to complain. They’re there to wish her a happy birthday. Last I see, the first receptionist is accepting a big hug.
Maybe the compensation for living at an emotional edge is that it’s not just your anger that’s intense.
Now this was just mean.
This one’s for our old friend Chris the Cop, who is actually a retired cop these days, having turned in his badge a few years back for a quieter life in corporate America where the criminals he tracks down are just as stupid but dress nicer.
Chris had been contemplating retirement from the moment his first daughter was born but he was helped towards his final decision by a crook he chased down one night. Actually, he was helped by the chase itself. This mope had held up or tried to hold up a convenience store just as Chris happened to be pulling into the lot in his patrol car. The mope runs out of the store as Chris is getting out of his car. The clerk runs out of the store right after. The clerk yells, “Thief!” Chris yells “Stop!” The mope yells “Oh shit!” but does not stop. He runs faster.
The mope, you should know, is fat.
Not plump. Not husky. Not stout, chubby, or portly. He is not built for speed. He is not built for walking briskly even. But he is motivated.
Chris at this time was a sergeant. He was not old or out of shape but he was not the flash he once was and he is out of practice chasing down criminals. He is a middle-aged guy who has done this sort of thing too many times. His muscles, his legs, his heart, his lungs, and his brain are all telling him, “Call it in. We don’t need to do this anymore.” But his pride is already chasing after the mope, dragging all the rest of him along with it.
The chase does not last long. Maybe it’s a block before Chris catches up and tackles the mope. But by this time the mope is sucking wind like he’s dying, which Chris was thinking he might very well be doing, although he’s frankly not too concerned about the mope’s health because he’s sucking wind too and his heart’s pounding and his legs are screaming “We told you so! We told you so!”
And get this. The mope decides he’s not going to come quietly. He starts fighting. This requires Chris to put some effort into cuffing him.
It is some time after Chris succeeds in this before he can draw enough extra breath to be able to say to the mope, “You fucking moron! What are you trying to do, kill us both with heart attacks?”
From this night on retirement cannot come any too soon for Chris.
I’m sure Chris won’t mind that I told you this after he reads the story from our local paper that follows here, because he can say, “At least I didn’t have to shoot the asshole after letting him take my Taser off of me!”
Officer fires on, subdues suspect in Kingston
At 11:22 a.m., Officer Michael Pedersen spotted the fugitive, Eric Pearson, riding his bicycle at Clinton Avenue and Liberty Street. Pearson, 18, was wanted on a felony warrant stemming from a November domestic violence case.
Pearson immediately began fighting when the officer tried to arrest him. As the two wrestled in the street, Pearson pulled the officer's Taser from its holster and ran away.
He sprinted through backyards for about a block along Clinton Avenue. When he reached 137 Clinton Ave., Pearson sneaked around the side of the house and saw Pedersen in pursuit.
Pearson pulled the trigger on the Taser, shooting its two darts toward the officer. One dart hit Officer Pederson in the left temple, but the other dart missed.
The officer pulled his .40-caliber Glock service pistol and fired one shot, striking Pearson near the left hip.
Note the suspect was on a bicycle when the officer spotted him. Also note the suspect had out-run cops two other times recently. You think, though, this cop’s fellow officers are going to talk about the remarkable foot speed and stamina he displayed catching up with someone fleeing on a bike?
Read all of Adam Bosch’s story in the Times Herald-Record.
Bookkeeper took $807,000 while at job she ‘truly’ enjoys
KINGSTON — After Mary Merten was caught embezzling more than $800,000 from the Kingston law firm where she worked as a bookkeeper, she pulled a move that showed more guts.
Facing a stack of grand larceny and identity-theft charges, Merten wrote this in a letter to the lawyers she stole from:
"I do not want to put you on the spot but I would ask that you consider keeping me employed," Merten wrote. "Not because of the money, but because I truly enjoy my job and want to continue to work for the both of you to make up for my imperfections."
Read all of Adam Bosch’s story in the Times Herald-Record.
For most of us the life of Nancy Botwin, the drug-dealing suburban mom who's the main character of Weeds, would be a nightmare. For the first three seasons, it was a nightmare for Nancy. But as the demands of her career have become increasingly more dangerous and deadly, Nancy has not only grown less frightened by it and more thrilled with it. She's enjoying herself even as she watches herself and her sons turning into monsters. That, of course, makes her life even more of a nightmare for that part of the audience who aren't sociopaths.
But what looks like a nightmare to some of us is just another chapter of the American Dream for others.
Harvested plants uncovered during previous traffic stop
BRIDGEVILLE — Sullivan County sheriff's deputies uncovered the remains of a major marijuana growing operation Tuesday near Monticello on Southwoods Drive after following up on an arrest last week.
Deputies said they found grow lights, dozens of transformers, large pots, reflective material on one of the walls, timers and ventilation systems, all indications of a sophisticated growing operation.
Deputies pulled over a U-Haul van and a car on Exit 108 for traffic violations during the snowstorm Thursday afternoon. The deputy noticed a strong odor and asked to search the van. The back of the van was filled with garbage bags. Some contained cut stems, but behind the driver's seat were 30-gallon bags stuffed with marijuana, deputies said.
About 28 pounds was recovered, but deputies now say three men arrested that day had the capability of producing $1 million worth of pot in a year.
"It appears we caught them on their way out of town," Undersheriff Eric Chaboty said Tuesday.
These guys knew what they were doing too.
NYSEG linemen determined that the electric meter had been bypassed. The occupants have paid the minimum $14.49 monthly service charge for electricity since Aug. 3, 2009. Authorities believe the growing operation started around that time.
If I remember right, it was the spike in the power usage that caught the Feds' attention and brought them to the door of Nancy's grow-house. Or am I thinking of an episode of Numb3rs?
Doesn't matter. The main thing is that as Nancy's discovered, pot growing is not a business for amateurs.
Authorities believe the three men might be affiliated with the Trinitarios, a violent and fast-growing Dominican street gang.
Read all of Victor Whitman's story in the Times Herald-Record.
Stayed up late last night listening to an ex-cop and a newsapaperwoman swap stories.
Our old pal Chris the Cop was in town on business. He’s a fraud investigator in the private sector these days. But his soul’s still on the job. All cops have great stories to tell, most cops are good at telling them, Chris is the best at it I’ve ever had the pleasure to hear.
And the newspaperwoman at the kitchen table with us is pretty good at telling tales herself.
It was a lot of fun listening to them. Trouble is, all cop stories, and all reporter stories, share the same themes---how stupid, venal, thieving, hapless and otherwise deserving of their bad luck, as well as the unlooked for and unwanted attention of cops and newspaper reporters, people tend to be.
So it was a night of listening to stories about how money wound up, temporarily, in pockets it didn’t belong in, how schemes to put money in pockets it didn’t belong in blew up on the planners, how love affairs went awry and ended in humiliation, exposure, and ruin or in fisticuffs and gunplay, how decisions by builders, accountants, bosses, lovers, homeowners, politicians, drug dealers, bureaucrats, lottery winners, storekeepers, gamblers, and all other sorts and conditions of up to that moment seemingly honest and intelligent people to cut a corner, put one over, make a killing, or just get a little ahead of life in some way resulted in serious bodily or emotional harm followed by trips to the hospital, police station, courtroom, and the poor farm or the insane asylum.
Funny stuff, but too much of it can degrade your opinion of the human race, which is seriously depressing if your opinion of the human race isn’t all that high to begin with and you have a habit of identifying with the luckless losers who are the protagonists in these stories.
By the time the ex-cop and the newspaperwomen wrapped it up and called it a night, I was feeling as if every single story had been about me.
I went to bed thinking of myself as a crook, a cheat, a thief, and a liar. And not any old run of the mill crook, cheat, thief, and liar.
The world’s stupidest crook, cheat, thief, and liar.
All through the night I dreamed of jail cells and perp walks and I woke up surprised that I wasn’t in handcuffs and the front page headlines weren’t about the incredibly dumb ways I had brought about my well-deserved self-destruction.
Next time we have guests over I’m inviting a minister and a kindergarten teacher.