Photo by Kelly Bracken.
Contemplating how beloved 90-year-old comic maven Stan Lee is these days, it occurred to me that if a man (or woman) lives long enough he can do some serious damage control to his legacy. A couple decades ago, many in the comic book world were upset that Stan had seemingly usurped credit rightfully due illustrator Jack Kirby when it came to the "who-did-what" genesis of Marvel Comics' pantheon of superheroes and angst-ridden alter egos. But Stan sucked it up, began formally acknowledging credit where credit was due to Jack, thereby largely rehabilitating his own reputation in the process. Go, Stan.
Of course, some people are neither capable of remediating their images, nor deserving of the prospect. More likely to find themselves immortalized in the form of a Bud Lite “Real Men of Genius” parody or the subject of some bitchslapping blog (imagine that), these displacers of atoms and burners of oxygen are godsends to people such as myself. Because when it comes to the prospect of saying "Look at this idiot…", it's not only fun to wail away on their asses but profitable, too.
Sometimes it's another part of the anatomy deserving of the spanking. Being on the West Coast, I have little idea what former Congressman Anthony Weiner's image was before he stepped on what he was sexting, but he sure as hell hasn't been working on doing a 180 since. If it's easy to kick such people when they're down, it's because the crap that finds them there makes it difficult to resist the temptation.
Law enforcement has its fair representation of the species, with those occupying the rarified heights of law enforcement's upper echelons particularly target-friendly. The question isn't whether I can do a better job in that capacity, it's whether someone else can. And God knows there are all manner of infinitely better candidates who will wile away their days deprived of the opportunity to do so.
But when it comes to opportunities denied, few are more personally vexing than those parsimonious souls who fail to avail themselves to the kind of follies that keep other media outlets like TMZ and National Enquirer in the black.
These are the squared away men and women of law enforcement, the ones who allow us to call our vocation a profession. As loved by the communities they serve as they are respected by the troops that work for them, they are all too rarely acknowledged herein: Face it, they don't avail themselves to the kind of lampoonery as disgraced former Orange County, Calif., Sheriff Mike Carona, who is now serving time in federal prison for witness tampering. Indeed, I'd be tempted to say "thanks for nothing" save for the fact that they establish the benchmark that we all intuitively recognize if not formally acknowledge.
These are the men and women who are spoken of warmly in a variety of circles. The kind that inspired one officer who when asked to draw distinctions between a former police chief and his successor said, "If the old chief says he's got a warrant for the devil, we're going to hell and drag his red ass back. If the current chief said he had a warrant for Chucky Cheese, we won't stake out the lobby for him." Ouch.
Great leaders deserve all manner of enthusiastic praise even if it doesn't always come their way. For one, it's not always easy to write flowery somethings about such leaders. After all it's expected that they're capable of the job, even if that expectation is not necessarily a conditioned one. For another, it can smack of kissing up. The possibility of one day being proved wrong in your estimation is an inhibiter, too. Finally, saying "This guy is great." doesn't have the same visceral ring as, "This guy sucks." (It gets fewer page views, too).
But the more one contemplates the parasites of the profession, the more one comes to appreciate those who take their charge of office seriously.
The difficulties they face and the challenges they endure canvas those of the beat cop and then some. If the men and women of patrol have to be exposed to a cross-section of varied subjects, then law enforcement administrators are expected to have doctorates in each of those and be able to answer for and explain the seemingly inexplicable actions of each of their subordinates.
Administrators must be concerned with personnel morale and the many intangibles that contribute to it. If they're seen with the troops in the field, they're interlopers, or trying too hard to be one of the guys; if they remain in absentia, then they're apathetic. Hold a guy accountable, and they're chicken-shit; extend another clemency, and they're playing favorites. And so they walk a perceptual tight-rope with Wallenda-like precision.
But day in, day out, they lead from the front, reconciling the spirit of the law and the letter of it both in-house and out. If tempted toward idealism, they nonetheless know the profession is not immune to those of bad character or questionable judgment. Late night ruminations may be occupied with deliberating mistakes of the heart and those of the mind and agonizing over hiring, firing, and having to prosecute their own.
They know that they can't get blood from a stone, but that won't stop them from trying in coming up with every imaginable means by which to augment their department's logistics, and training. Neither their creativity nor their ethics are in question and if they can get something on the cheap without the taint of corruption, they ain't too proud to beg.
But one thing they won't have to beg for is rehabilitation of their reputations. They've honored themselves in the first place.
I don't know how they do it, but thank goodness they do.
Perhaps you work for one of these great leaders. I sincerely hope so.
If you do, please consider leaving a copy of this atop his or her desk as a way of saying thanks.
From me, at least.