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Departments : The Beat

We Are What We Laugh About

July 01, 2004  |  by John MacKenzie

An acquaintance of mine, a psychologist, is teaching cops how to laugh-again. They've forgotten how.

Sound strange? Think about it. How many times have you been at a social gathering, even a family get-together, and your occupation became the topic of conversation? And, of course, everybody wanted to hear cop stories. So you told them about a funny event you were involved in last week. Man, it was a riot!  And you even told it well.

But it only seemed to make people uncomfortable, edgy. They shot you looks like you had suddenly displayed a third eyeball or Vulcan ears.

Come on. You've even gotten the stern fish-eye from department brass when they caught you or others laughing about a genuinely humorous, albeit "socially incorrect" incident-right? In fact, careers have been blunted or ended, marriages lost, families alienated over the wrong funny tale told in the wrong setting, and you were puzzled at why. Damn, that stuff was funny! Wasn't it?

Now think about all the good cops you've known who simply gave up and stopped laughing. They "offended" or "upset" too many civilians, too many brass hats, and in purest self-defense, they simply shut down. It seemed that any time they revealed what made them laugh, they were criticized as weird, warped, or wired wrong.

Here's a funny incident:

Tommy rolled to cover Ben on the arrest of a felony fugitive. As he pulled up to the shabby duplex and dumped his cruiser, he heard a strange cry coming from inside.

"Ooh eh oh!" Then Ben's voice grunted, "OH! OOH eh oh!" Tommy scrambled in and found Ben and the suspect wedged between a stove and refrigerator, semi-reclining against the wall, with Ben on top. Neither could move much, and they kept commanding each other "Ooh eh oh," and "OH! OOH eh oh!" Approaching cautiously with his pistol out, Ben finally figured out the tangle.

The suspect had Ben's revolver by the butt, his finger on the trigger. Ben's left hand was clamped around the cylinder, keeping it from turning. Unable to reach Ben's eyes, the suspect had four fingers of his right hand shoved into Ben's mouth, trying to tear his jaw off. Ben had fished out his Beretta .22 backup, angled it over his head, and stuck it in the suspect's mouth. All that grunting was, "You let go!" and the reply, "NO! YOU let go!" They were both out of steam, but locked onto that revolver, and each with a hand jammed into the other's mouth.

Tommy leaned over and explained, "Umm, dude, I can see you've sorta got my partner's gun, and you got your fingers in his mouth. Now, that ain't gonna work, OK? And, umm, you might think he's got his fingers in your mouth, but what's there, see, it's actually his other little gun." The suspect's eyes flashed open like saucers. "Uh UN?" he asked.

"Yeah, dude, a gun," Tommy assured him. "And see, if you don't let go of his big gun, he's gotta shoot you with his little gun, see? Or," Tommy said, bringing his muzzle into contact right between the suspect's eyes, "I can tell Ben to close his eyes-sorry, Ben, this is gonna be real messy-and I'll pop a cap in you myself. Either one goes straight to the brain; you just gotta choose between oral or cranial."

The suspect chose neither. He slowly, carefully released his grip on Ben's revolver. Both Tommy and Ben kept their roscoes planted while the human pretzel unwound, then all three breathed several long, deep sighs of relief.
When other units arrived, Tommy, Ben, and the cuffed ex-fugitive were outside on the crabgrass, roaring with laughter, tears rolling down their cheeks, gasping, "OOH EH OH! OH, OOH EH OH!"

Great stuff, but not for the Wednesday church social.

Think about it. Our best laughs come from dealing with drunks, dopers, stickup men, traffic stops, domestic beefs where something a little bizarre happened-and we walked away. We survived. All those things can kill you, all come with a black-edged death message, and when we win and walk away, sometimes it's just funny as hell-but only to us. The stories may be about crooks and drunks and scumbags. But the laughs, guys, those are about survival.

You're not weird, warped, or wired wrong. We're just different. Get over it. Laugh with your brother and sister troops, and try to learn some of the silly civilian stuff those others laugh at. They can't learn what makes you laugh.
We are what we laugh about. We're survivors.

John MacKenzie is a veteran police officer. 


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