Thursday, December 29, 2016

Reports of My Death Wish Were Greatly Exaggerated

The holidays are tough.

They're tough for us all in one way or another.  That idyllic picture of the loving family gathered around a cozy fire without a care in the world, other than for each other, isn't true and never has been.  Not that I've ever observed.  And I'm an observer.  I see shit.  I know stuff.  It's just not true.

Most of us celebrate with some sort of amalgam of tradition and insanity that somehow or another generally works.  Good on ya, however you do it.

I sort of expected to be stuck with some variation of holiday blues this year.  It's supposed to be a thing for the relatively recently divorced, they tell me.  Thankfully, that wasn't the case. Certainly things are not perfect, i.e. no cozy fire or idyllic family, but still.  Not so bad.

Christmas started with a spur of the moment field trip to the city to look at Christmas lights and hang out with a friend.  I took my dogs with me, for the first time.  She lives in an a small bungalow.  With the addition of my two monsters, there were six dogs and three cats spending the night in that space.  The real miracle of Christmas this year was the fact that there were no fights, canine nor feline.  Nor did Jay and I come to blows, if we're going to be precise.

On Christmas Eve I went to church where, for the first time, I was the acolyte all by my grown up self without benefit of the Jedi Master.  It didn't go perfectly, but there weren't any flubs that couldn't be easily covered by the priest.  And most importantly, I didn't spill anything.

The best part of the service was that my father, as well as my ex-husband's brother and his family were able to be there.  The bell tolled while the priest and I waited at the rear (or is that the front?) of the church to begin the two person procession. I explained who this group was that had effectively doubled the size of the congregation.  I could see she hadn't quite wrapped her head around my ex's family showing up to spend Christmas Eve with me.  "They got custody of me in the divorce," I explained.  

After the service I went home with the ex-in-laws for food and presents.  We had fun, we ate well, and we all agreed that the life-sized singing Santa my sister-in-law got on sale at the last minute was the creepiest thing we'd seen since her Halloween haunted house extravaganza.

Christmas day was spent at home with my family.  I don't cook, so we ate tamales and nachos.  Traditional Christmas fare, for sure.  The only grandchild kicked my butt in a game of dominoes.   She is a quirky young woman whose company and fashion sense I enjoy.  She seems to enjoy my quikiness, too.  I hope that lasts, because she may get stuck picking my nursing home and I'd like to stay on her good side.

My step-daughter came by for a while Christmas night, then we met for breakfast the next morning before she returned to the Big-Ass Cities.  We don't have a whole lot to talk about these days, what with the two of us being terribly polite to each other and all.  But we'll keep at it.  Maybe she'll help my niece with the nursing home selection.

Christmas was good.  Last year wasn't too bad, either, except for my almost, accidental, suicide.

By the time Christmas Eve arrived last year I was completely done with the holidays.  My family wasn't getting together until New Year's.  That's how we'd done it for years, but the waiting is like those days between a death and a funeral.  You're at loose ends until it's all over and done with.  This time, I was done on the 24th.

I wanted my tree gone and I wanted the space back that it was occupying in my den.  I was in a re-arranging mood and wanted to put furniture there.  So, I took that sucker the hell down.

The tree spends eleven months of the year in a wooden coffin, in my garage.  Because, well, because it fits and what else would you put in the coffin, really?  I don't think I will ever embrace the high church idea of leaving the decorations up until Epiphany.  I can't stomach the sight of them by the morning of the 26th on a normal year.  And this was not a normal year.

On the night of December 24th, after a few months of separation and exactly seven days before my divorce would be final, I opened the kitchen door leading to the garage and went out to open the coffin. While I was at it, I decided I should really start my motorcycle and let it run a bit.  I'd not winterized it, but was starting it every few weeks and keeping the gas moving through the fuel lines and such.  Being a good bike, it roared into life at the first touch of the starter.

The coffin was ready to receive it's yearly cargo, and I went back inside to start packing ornaments and such.  Then I remembered something I needed in one of the back rooms of the house. I can't remember what it was that I wanted so suddenly, but I spent several long minutes looking for it.

I'd left the kitchen door open.  I did not, however, remember to open the garage door.

When I returned to that end of the house, I choked. The exhaust fumes were already thick in my kitchen and den and were collecting in the living room before moving down the hall towards the bedrooms.   It was bad.

I ran out to the garage and shut off the bike.

Even though by this time it was almost midnight and baby it is/was cold outside, I threw open every door and window in the house.  The ceiling fans did pretty much nothing to move the fumes out and would you believe that this was one of the few times that the wind wasn't really blowing in West Texas?  I grabbed a blanket and sat out on the patio for a bit until the air cleared.  As I shivered under the cotton cover and the questioning eyes of two nasally affronted dogs, I had to laugh at myself.  And at everyone I've ever known.

Had I, through some sort of epic fit of ineptitude, managed to succumb to the fumes no one - NO ONE - would believe that I hadn't committed suicide, at home, alone, on Christmas Eve, amidst the detritus of an unappreciated holiday tree and a life that had recently twisted off onto a new path that I hadn't even remotely anticipated.  Given the circumstances, even those who know me best would believe I'd offed myself.  You would have been shocked and surprised, but you would have believed it.  My co-workers admitted that they would've stood in quiet clusters in various offices, wiping away surreptitious tears and commenting on how they had no idea things were that bad; that I'd hidden my true feelings well.  I might've even believed if of myself at that point!

So this is your warning: if I ever turn up dead seemingly by my own hand, don't buy it for a second.  Nothing is that bad.  In fact, things are pretty good.  If I'm dead it's because somebody did me in and I will expect you put your collective smarts to the task of determining whodunit.

This year I have mothballed the bike for the winter.  It sits silently in the garage, hooked to a battery tender, with fuel stabilizer floating in the tank.  I've no need to start it.

And I didn't put the tree up at all.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

At Least the Robe was Warm.

Several years ago, when I lived in the big city, I went to the YMCA every morning at 6:00 a.m. to swim.  It was always just me and six really old guys.  Every morning, five days a week, for a couple of years.  We were all great buds, except for one almost insurmountable drawback.  Any time I saw any one of them anywhere other than the pool, they all said the exact same thing.

"I didn't recognize you with your clothes on!"

There is nothing, just nothing, - sexist overtones aside - that is more irritating that an old and moldy joke, oft repeated.  (I should probably point out that I think this is not the first time I've told you that story, making this entire post extremely meta.  You. are. welcome.)

And in the interest of not perpetuating the moldy oldies, I'm not going to tell you that the only thing separating Amarillo from the North Pole is a barbed wire fence.  Why?  Because EVERYONE that crosses my path today is going to mention that the fence is down.  Everyone.

I am so tired of that joke.

However, not too tired to whine about the cold!  Lucky you!

Yesterday I awoke to the warm embrace of pillows and memory foam.  I was cocooned quite nicely and marveled at my totally toasty state.  Surely the weatherman had been wrong.  Evidently I needn't have bothered letting my faucets drip all night.  It wasn't nearly as cold as predicted. 

The dogs were grumbling about the crate, so I got up to let them out.


As soon as I'd scooted them out the door, I dived for the bedclothes.  Within minutes the dog door clattered followed by additional bed diving and two cold, wet noses snarfling in my face.  The dogs complained vociferously about the state of the outdoors before burrowing alongside me in the mass of blankets.  They were followed minutes later by the sane cat and we melded into one big, breathy pile of mutually warming flesh and fur. 

The insane cat sneezed under the bed. 

I checked my phone. 

It was one degree outside.


How insulting is that?  One degree.  I didn't bother to check the wind chill.  It would have been offensive.  The wind always blows here and that's why the fence joke.  It makes the cold exponentially colder.

When I was a wee young thing I lived in Montana for about three years.  I can still remember stories on the news - multiple stories, every year - about people who'd been stranded due to car trouble or what have you.  They would either strike out in search of help or stay sheltered where they were, and slowly, unknowingly freeze to death.  They weren't dressed for the extreme temperature because without wind, it just didn't feel that horrible.

That was just plain weird to my little Texas brain. Cold in Montana was bitter and dangerous.  But it wasn't wind driven.  And so you didn't notice that it was killing you.  Not s'much.

Cold is always wind driven here.  That's how the cold temps get here.  It can be barely below freezing yet feel like the deepest void of space and you just know you're going to die of exposure right that very minute if you don't get the hell in the house.  The wind drives the cold right through you, laughing at each of the layers it peels away while doing it.

So, I stayed in my bed.  I watched some British home buying shows and marveled at how less spoiled the English buyers are than their HGTV counterparts.   After an hour or so I checked my phone again. 

Two degrees. 

At that point I knew this was essentially the end of the world.  In that event, I needed karma points, so I got up and went to church.

The end. 

(Oh my god, it was cold.)

Monday, December 12, 2016

Not Holding My Breath

As I write this, I am supposed to be meeting with a thug.  However, since we mutually decided to forego that appointment, I'm using the time to work on this blog post.  I justify this by pointing out that I don't have time to accomplish another task before my next appointment so I'm writing instead; once again proving my mastery of rationalization.

Burglary is a problem in this town.  It's not really much of a problem for the burglars, since most of us don't lock our doors, but many of the rest of us have problems with it from time to time.  If you're observant, you'll notice more and more little orange yard signs cropping up, proclaiming a specific site is being monitored by a faceless entity in a large city somewhere, primed to contact local law enforcement the moment sensors indicate a broach of your proclaimed perimeters.

That's all well and good, but out here in west Texas, the counties are large and the law enforcement agencies are small.  It takes a while to drive from one side of the county to the other if you are one of the couple of deputies on patrol.

Get a dog instead.  It will probably cost less and the side perks are great.

We all know who commits most of the break-ins.  It's proving it that's the hard part.  More often than not, Marco is behind the thefts.

When I first started working in Barber County, about four years ago, my secretary warned me to make sure my office is locked if I leave it unattended for any length of time.  Our office suite is right across the hall from the men's room.

In days of old, when nights were...dark, courthouses always had exterior entrances to the public restrooms.  This was to accommodate all the ranchers and farmers who came to town on Saturday afternoon and needed a place, other than the back wall of the lumber yard, to answer the call of nature.

Our courthouse still has those outside restroom doors, but now they're only opened during office hours.  That means that anyone, and more specifically, Marco, can enter the men's room from outside, dart across the hall into the probation office, snatch a laptop or two and dash out again in a matter of seconds.

My first purchase as director was a new laptop to replace the one that Marco had pilfered a month or two before I got here.  No one could prove it was him, but it was him.

Marco's name crops up either in the DA's office, or conversations with the sheriff or some of my people on at least a weekly basis.  He's constantly under suspicion.  Occasionally he gets caught in some small indiscretion and spends a week or two in jail.  A few months back, he finally got caught on something big(ish).  Now he's on probation.

The first time I met with him, he told me he wanted to go to treatment.

Sure ya do, Marco.  Sure ya do.

He assured me he was serious.  Said he was tired of what he was doing and how he was living.  He knows that there is no way he can do probation without help.  He has to stay clean and sober to stay out of jail.  And he needs a job to make the payments.  No one in the county is going to hire him - not for anything more than the most basic day labor, and even then they'd need to count the hoes and shovels before he left.  If someone was actually dumb enough to hire him, I'd be obligated to call any prospective employer and make sure they knew he was a thief and a thug and to ascertain if they'd lost their ever-loving mind.  

Marco said he's tired of living like this.  He needs drug treatment and he needs to get the hell out of Dodge, so to speak.

I decided to call his bluff.  I set him up for an evaluation with a drug/alcohol counselor, certain he'd fail to keep the appointment.

He showed up.

The counselor told me afterwards that he asked her for a referral to treatment.  He really wants to get help, she said.  "You think he's being honest or just blowing smoke?" I asked.  She shrugged.

Marco kept his next appointment with me, a few days later.  I decided to push his bluff a little farther.  "The counselor has recommended you for treatment," I told him.  "Let me explain what I've got in mind."  I proceeded to tell him about what we are calling, this week, Community Corrections Centers.  (Next week we'll probably call them something else.  Nothing justifies the existence of a state oversight agency more than changing the names of all the programs it oversees on a fairly regular basis.)  ((That's why my official title is Community Supervision and Corrections Department Director, rather than Chief Probation Officer.))

CCCs are good programs.  They are lock-down institutions where defendants are housed for intensive drug and alcohol treatment for anywhere from one month to two years.  The average defendant completes the program in nine months.  You have to be a royal screw up to stay there for two years.  The first five-six months the defendant is an inmate, basically, and works a treatment program.  Then, for the last two or three months, the Center functions as a half-way house.  The defendant works at job out in the community and stays at the Center when not a work, continuing the treatment.

Like any other program, it works for the motivated.  If you don't want to change, you're going to spend a miserable few months of your life being bombarded by correctional philosophies and you'll learn the words to say that will get you released as soon as possible so you can go back to what you were doing before.  But, as Ghandi said*, at least a seed has been planted.

Marco, to my immense surprise, was all in favor of going.  His only concern was that the facility I normally use, which is in the oh-so-aptly named town of Brownfield, is much too close to home.  He knows people there and he knows he would just get involved in all sorts of sketchy junk there.  "Don't you have someplace else I can go?" he asked.

For reals?  I told him about another facility which is about three hundred miles away.  He thought that would be good enough.  I iterated and reiterated the fact that if I sent him to this facility, he'd have to go to jail and sit there for a month or longer until bed space opened up, knowing full well he would balk at that bit of injustice.

He asked how soon he could turn himself in.

Color me annoyed.  I knew this meant I would have to do a ton of paperwork to get all this arranged, and then when he failed to follow through, I'd have to do yet more paperwork to get him arrested for that violation.

I got to work, somewhat slowly, on the paperwork.  There were delays, including a couple of heart attacks (a few figurative, one literal).  On Friday, while I was out of the office, the orders were finally signed.  Marco called first thing this morning to see if I had any news for him.  I told him I'd given the orders to the sheriff and when Marco came in for his appointment right after lunch, I'd walk him over to the sheriff's office so he could surrender himself.

Marco asked for more time.

Of course he did.

I rolled my eyes and tried not to sigh audibly.   I knew this whole thing had been a sham, right from the beginning.  And now my predictions of even more paperwork loomed large.

I asked why he needed more time.  Marco said he figured he'd be turning himself in today, so he arranged to be the one to pick up his kids from school, in order to say goodbye.  He plans to do that at 3:30 and asked if he could turn himself in at 5:00 p.m.

Well, hell.

I agreed.

I won't know until tomorrow morning whether or not he surrendered.  But so far he's been unwavering in his intent.  I'm glad I didn't wager anything on the odds of this happening.  Marco is about to make me eat some words and I'd hate to lose a bet on top of that.

Even if nothing else happens, burglaries should be curtailed for the next 10 months or so.  After that, who knows?

I'm pretty sure it's a good thing that people can still surprise me.

*"It's the action, not the fruit of the action, that's important. You have to do the right thing.  It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there will be any fruit.  But that doesn't mean you stop doing the right thing.  You may never know what results come from your action.  But if you do nothing, there will be no result." - Mahatma Gandhi  (Hat tip to Mindy who brought this quote to my attention, lo these many years ago.  It's basically the definition of probation officer.)