It is late afternoon, and the acrid smell of burning rubber lingers in the house, causing responders and technicians alike to cringe, an unintentional scowl uniformly marking their faces. A neighborhood dog approaches the scene and halts just outside the perimeter. It uncannily exhibits the same expression as its human counterparts before it departs to seek something preferable to scavenge, perhaps such as the bloated corpse of two week-dead mule, with a bit of luck. Anything would be better than this, after all…even to an East Chattanoogan crack-dog.
I stand outside with a clipboard in one hand and a Black & Mild tipped cigar in the other, its brief respite from my lips only allowed so I can more readily express myself to a curious rookie who was foolishly perched on my pending words.
“What the hell happened here, Sarge?” he had asked, hints of cellophane still evident on his magazine pouch and the goo from the price tag still visible on the hilt of his hundred-dollar flashlight.
I exhaled the last bit of smoke from my lungs while looking up and over his right shoulder off into the distance and said, “Love, son.”
(I paused for effect.)
“Love,” I repeated.
I can imagine what you’re thinking. What does a guy with the perceived insulating qualities of a champagne glass know about “Love”? How can someone whose ideas of fun consist of witnessing a plane crash (for purely statistical reasons, mind you) or shooting at propane cylinders in the middle of an empty field know the first thing about romance?
The answer is simple: I’m deep. I’m deep as crap.
Take, for instance, my in-depth knowledge of crime. I know what both kinds are. For all the variations of all the existing laws on the books, every one of them at one point or another comes back to the same two roots of all evil: Drugs, and Love Gone Bad.
Drugs? That’s easy. Drugs are either a means to escape, a quality-of-life issue, or funds to obtain them or profit from them. Done.
Convenience store robbery? Drugs. Gangland execution over standing on the wrong street corner? Drugs. Prescription mills? Self-explanatory. Wrecking your Lotus on a straightaway with no traffic at 4 a.m.? Embezzlement, shoplifting, securities fraud, arson? Drugs.
That’s not what today’s story is about, though. You’ve come to read this for the same reasons so many other people reach out to me on a daily, and occasionally, even an hourly, basis: Because I know everything there is to know about Love.
“You’re not exactly the marriage counseling type,” you’re probably thinking. But, unsurprisingly, you’re wrong. I counsel the hell out of marriages. And I’m not just talking about hosing down a couple entangled in a “Thunderdome-style” fight on the kitchen floor with mace. No. I’m talking about sitting them down in separate rooms and discussing what the real root of their problems is, not just the symptom of fist fighting. (After I’ve hosed them down with mace, of course.)
Women are simple. They just love everything. Without question. When it comes to love, they are simply “in it” or they are “not.” A new man (or woman)? In love. Done. The color turquoise? In love, done. A new pair of soft-leather Freebird boots on sale with free shipping? Marriage and honeymoon while watching “The Notebook” all at once. It’s not complicated, at least until the other half of the equation decides they are not in which case it goes completely to hell—but there’s no mystery there.
It’s not that men don’t also lose their minds when a woman leaves them; they just have a harder time jumping into love, per se, because they have two factors to consider, whereas women have none. Those two factors being, of course, “Will my tummy remain full?” and “Will I still be allowed to do what I want whenever I want to however I want to do it?” (with the obvious emphasis being on the former). It’s after those two elements are factored in a man decides, and even then it has to be a surprise to him, more or less.
A man falling in love is akin to placing a frog in a pot of water and slowly bringing it to a boil, whereas a woman will jump into a bubbling cauldron with her makeup and a $60 dollar push-up bra (a whole other topic of “deceit”) without a second thought.
“He was doing meth while working for a human trafficking company when you met him,” I might eventually say.
“But that was just a phase, I can change him! And he is really climbing their corporate ladder!” is the almost guaranteed response. Then she will be confused when he is caught breaking into a church to snort coke off of the hipbone of her 16-year-old mentally handicapped sister. We...are simply wired differently.
The night after a woman meets someone at the club and the proverbial “Walk of Shame” is behind her, she will text her girlfriend at her earliest convenience to profess that she has, indeed, met “The One” and will spend the day deciding if his last name is a suitable accompaniment to her first.
A guy on the other hand will check for his wallet first, see what’s for breakfast second, and the coital event is behind him. And if they do meet again? By his fifty-seond “date” he will still be able to look another man in the eye after being forced to introduce her and state, “She is not,” (in fact), “my girlfriend.” In his mind, they only see movies together, vacation together, couple with each other and very possibly live with one another. But that still does not make her his girlfriend. The reverse is very clearly not true, and it’s these teeny-tiny differences that can lead to the smell of burning hair/plastic/rubber as referenced in the prologue.
My knowledge of love isn’t restricted to damage control after the fact, either. I bring people together, as well as keeping them together. “You’re not exactly the matchmaking type,” you’re probably thinking. And again? Wrong.
“Hey, man,” it can start. “You need to meet this crazy chick I met at the A.B.C. Club.” (“A.B.C.” is not a real place, by the way, or I’d be reasonably wealthy.) “She’s wild.” And with the exchange of a cell phone number and a carrier company to determine cost of text messages? “Boom”—romance occurs. (Or something close.)
That’s pretty much it; I’m that good.
“You’ve broken up dozens of relationships, though. You can’t set foot in 17 local businesses by doing such, and there was a Craigslist hit on your life for this kind of thing, rumor had it,” you’re probably thinking. Well, you’d be right, but it wasn’t like I was “breaking up relationships;” I was just “testing them” and as it turns out many (many) were weak as heck.
I did people a service, though! Did I take some guff? Sure. But the tensile strength of a trash bag is a very serious thing, and you want to know the numbers before you go tossing a sack down the front steps to save you some trouble loading the truck. Who wants a bag that bursts after the first few rolls? Answer: no one. No one that really cares, anyway. No, I determined the level of commitment that could not otherwise be measured in couples, and while I was occasionally made out to be “the bad guy,” I let the results speak for themselves—and was eventually thanked in every case (albeit an “implied” thank you in most cases).
But that’s not why I did what I did; my rewards lay elsewhere. “Duty.” That was my reward.
Love is a brutal thing. It’s not some afterschool special; it’s a week-long series like “Shark Week” that in reality never really ends. It’s the seal in the ocean being pulled behind the camera and fish-heavy trawler, and you have to be ready for the famine or the feeding frenzy…and in my profession, I tend to have a front-row seat to both. Do I ask for it? Heck, no. But, like the mythical “A.B.C. Club” I’m a necessary part of it, so who am I to question fate?
“Damn, Sarge. You really do know everything about love,” the kid said. I slowly nodded in agreement, drawing deeply on the remains of my tipped cheap stogie.
In this case, the couple in the house behind us were so close that rather than be separated, one had decided not to let the other go at all, in the form of hitting him over the head with an aluminum Little League baseball bat and setting the carpet on fire to cover up the crime—hence that most disturbing smell. (I kept imagining the sound the bat made when it happened: “Ting.”)
“It makes you think twice about falling in love at all, you know?” said the fledgling copper.
I narrowed my eyes at once and jerked my head toward him. “Don’t fall in love?” I scolded him. “What? That’s like saying, ‘Don’t do drugs.’ What kind of life would a man have without those things?” I said knowingly, as I placed a hand on his shoulder. “You just have to keep your head about you.”
The kid squinted, taking his turn at looking off into the distance in deep thought.
I handed him the clipboard and went to my cruiser without another word. I’d forgotten that today was my anniversary and I needed to shag-ass to the closest Bi-Lo to get a handful of wild flowers and a card with some meaningful shit written in it.
I’d been saved by an Outlook Calendar reminder of the date, and, of course, my extensive knowledge of “Love.”
Love isn’t easy, folks. I just make it look that way.
Happy Valentine’s Day.