My wife mentioned a while back that she hoped there would be less gore in my next novel. That’s been sitting in the back of my mind for a while. Today in The Huffington Post there’s a story about a North Carolina police officer who is suing Starbucks for $750,000 after he spilled a free cup of coffee in his lap and burned himself back in 2012. Apparently Lieutenant Matthew Kohr of the Raleigh Police Department told the jury “I didn’t know it was that hot,” alleging that the spilled coffee caused third-degree burns which aggravated his Crohn’s disease, caused anxiety and sleeplessness, and led to a loss of intimacy with his wife. That’s not gory, it’s funny–he’s got to be kidding, right? $750K for a scalded scrotum? Okay, lets start setting precedents, because the other day I paid ten bucks for a schezuan chilli chicken with special fried rice from the Happy Inn Chinese takeaway, and it was so goddamn spicy I am still bleeding from the anus. Burning ring of fire does not come close to describing my suffering. And don’t forget the anxiety and sleeplessness! Ka-ching, right? Plus, it took all the skin off the inside of my mouth, so now how do I drink my free coffee? Where’s my goddamn money!
I kid, of course. I’ve never accepted a free coffee in my life, nor have I ever sued anyone. While I don’t begrudge the Lieutenant from North Carolina his free beverage, I believe it’s the thin end of the wedge, the siren song of a downward spiral which begins with the complimentary flat white and graduates to late-night lattes, and then before long you’re down at the truckstop smacking down macchiatos at 2 in the morning, hating yourself but unable to stop. Then come the half-price McDonalds, and now you’re on the slippery slope, mainlining two-dollar quarterpounders, looking after the joints that give you a discount and taking longer to respond to places that don’t. And that, of course, is why they offer half-price food and drink to cops: your average meth head won’t target the local KFC if it’s always full of cops scarfing down zinger burgers.
So why do we accept it? Just say no, right? I could lie and say the only sustenance I need is the satisfaction I receive from serving the community and knowing I’ve made a difference, but then I’d run the risk of suffocating on my own vomit. There has to be more to this job than free coffee and a warm inner glow. The fact is, this story rings true because almost every cop I know is looking for the quick out. The job’s a lottery and every shift you run the numbers and see if yours come up. I’ve had workmates eat the end of their gun, I’ve seen them disabled in collisions, go haywire on alcohol and anxiety meds, lose control of their emotions, just never come back to work. Everytime I put on a blue shirt, I wonder what’s ahead of me. I leave the station and wonder who’s out there waiting for me. I begin each shift with the words “There are eight million stories in the naked city, and this is one of them” but of course that’s been said before.
I saw a guy with three-quarters of his head missing last week. I didn’t want to talk about it for a few days. Standing around dead people makes you hungry, it’s a fact, so most of the guys went for a feed afterwards, talked it out, got over it. I left them to it and drove for hours, mulled it over in my head, wrote the narrative and rewrote it until it made sense to me: so terrible, yet so ordinary; so graphic, yet so dull. He was depressed, he had access to firearms, he left a note, nobody noticed. Every day, over and over, the same story being told. The same phonecall, the same death message, the same wild, oscillating range of emotions, the same crime scene, the same smell, the same empty piece of meat. Then coffee, half-price, maybe even free, and you feel for a second that somebody appreciates you for what you do.
So I doubt the Lieutenant gave it all away over a spilled cappucino. I wonder if he’d just had another night like mine, and saw a way out.
Until it’s my turn, I’ll write what I know.