A SOUND OF ALARM
Have you ever been awakened at night by a siren? That sound you hear when a police car, fire truck or ambulance is rushing to the scene of some emergency? It can be scary because it is so loud and you know that something bad has happened -- an accident, fire or a crime.
In fact, the word "siren" is very old and used to mean something different from the meaning it has today. In the old stories, the Sirens were beautiful women who lived by the edge of the sea. The Sirens could sing so sweetly that anyone who heard them would forget everything that he or she was doing and try to get closer to them to hear better. If you happened to be a sailor, as most of their listeners were, you might jump overboard and try to swim to them or even steer the ship toward them. These actions invariably resulted in drowning and shipwreck and so Sirens came to be associated with disaster.
Today, I thought about the siren. And then sat down and wrote
This little poem about it and its single, doleful note
To show it's more than just a noise that comes from a machine.
Now, read the poem and you will learn exactly what I mean.
The sound that frightens us at night: the wailing of the siren.
In daytime, too, it tends to scare when heard in our environs.
It's loud, it's shrill, it startles us. We know there's something wrong
Whenever we do chance to hear the siren's mournful song.
Imagine in some distant place your very dearest friend
Was lost or hurt or in a jam. You'd want your help to send.
And sure you'd want your friend to know that help was on its way
And all the folks for miles around to clear the way -- and pray.
If it were me, I'll tell you what: I'd holler, scream and yell
As loud and long as ever I could till all the world I'd tell
How much I cared, how far I'd run to help a friend in need
Or any fellow human of any race or sex or creed.
You see, the siren's just the sound of all our many voices
Joined as one to voice concern for one more common crisis.
To one who's lost or hurt or scared, it says: "Help's on the way".
To all the rest of us it says: "It might be you some day."
So, when you hear that sound and someone's asking or inquiring,
Tell them that we're listening to our good old friend the siren.
Not the kind that long ago lured sailors to disaster
But that which helps to clear the way to help help get there faster.
A COMMUNITY POLICE OFFICER
In their early days, because their job was to patrol the countryside, State Troopers rode horses. In cities, towns and villages, local police officers patrolled on foot.
Over the years, cops started driving around in cars and had less direct contact with the public. In recent years, we are seeing a return to foot patrol as a means of bringing police service closer to the community. We call it Community Policing.
In any neighborhood that has a foot patrol officer, she or he is likely to be very enthusiastic and love the job. That officer feels that the neighborhood is under her or his special protection. The people who live in those neighborhoods feel that way, too.
THE FOOT PATROL
She walks along. Her nightstick twirls.
She tips her hat to boys and girls.
The merchants smile as she goes by
All confident she keeps her eye
On each of their emporia.
She'll stop, do anything for ya.
Just ask, she won't ignore you.
She'll bend your ear and bore you;
But she'll always show when cops are called;
When cats are treed and cars are stalled;
When neighbors have a donnybrook
Or property's been wrongly took;
When any older person's scared
Or some dispute's got too well-aired;
Whenever there's the slightest need.
It's in the nature of the breed.
And what does she get paid for this?
Not love nor money nor hug nor kiss
Nor all the tea that China brews
Could tempt her from a cop's worn shoes.
She can't conceive a job to top
The one she's got -- to be a cop
Pounding pavement, on the street,
To be outside and walk a beat;
To have the opportunity
To serve the whole community.
A BORN INVESTIGATOR
Detectives or investigators, as some prefer to be called, are police officers who are specially assigned and trained to investigate individual criminal cases.
There have been many famous detectives, not all of them cops, in history and in fiction -- such as Miss Marple and Sherlock Holmes or Inspector Clouseau and Joe Friday.
Whatever you might read in fiction or elsewhere, the best investigators are invariably very persistent, detail-oriented people who think and think and think about all the bits and pieces of evidence and information they have to solve a case.
One of my friends -- Tom Smith, who used to be a detective with the Albany, New York Police -- solved one of his famous cases while standing in the shower:
THE SOGGY DETECTIVE
Tom pondered his clues in the shower
For hour after hour after hour.
Of his cases, he found the solutions
While performing his daily ablutions.
Yes, Tom was a highly effective
If soggy and pruney and squishy detective.
This poem describes the typical detective -- someone who was obviously born to the job. The person who inspired it is David M. Luitweiler. David is a very pleasant and funny man. He is especially famous for the amusing pranks he likes to play on other law enforcement officers. He is a real instigat-- I mean, investigator.
If you happened to be traveling with him, you might be surprised at how quiet and withdrawn he becomes. He is thinking very hard about all of his cases -- or maybe thinking up a prank.
From very early in his youth,
'Twas clear this guy would be a sleuth.
Yes, early showed he pre-direction
For future work in crime detection.
While in his mother's arms protective,
The bouncing baby boy detective
Took notes and even solved a case
Before he'd ever walked a pace.
Precociously, he started talking;
While Dave in cradle still was rocking,
He startled all the gent-a-ry
By crying: "Element-a-ry!"
No circuses or trips to zoos
Distracted him from searching clues.
No games or pranks did e'er involve him
Unless they called for mystery-solvin'.
We'd count on this one not to peek
While we would hide for him to seek.
He even scorned all nursery rhymes
Except the ones involving crimes.
We clearly saw that he possessed
One object he pursued with zest
And knew the field he'd find a job in
When he nailed the bird who killed Cock Robin.
ON HIGHWAYS AND BYWAYS
Sooner or later, most people forget themselves and exceed the speed limit. When they do, they may very well encounter a police officer. As the Teletubbies might say: "Eh-oh!" The officer will pull them over, look at their license and registration and give them a ticket.
Speeding is a violation and if you are guilty of it, you have to pay a fine and your insurance company finds out about it. Insurance costs more for people who have been guilty of speeding and other traffic violations. You can see that the consequences of speeding are not very pleasant.
Why do we have and enforce the speeding laws? Because speeding is dangerous. Common sense tells us that the faster you go, the harder it is to stop, to avoid obstacles and to react to unexpected situations you might encounter in traffic. And that is why our police work so hard to discourage people from speeding.
THE SPEED LIMIT
Now, you might think that just for fun
The Trooper points the radar gun.
But that's not true. No how. No way.
He's not just out to spoil your day.
You see, it's part of Troopers' work
To curb the road hog and the jerk
Who of his neighbor fails to think;
Who might have had too much to drink.
'Cause when they're out upon the road
And disobey the highway code
And jeer and sneer and say: "Who cares"
The life they risk is not just theirs.
You see the Trooper stern and grim.
What is it, kids, that saddens him?
What every cop's too often seen
At yet another smash-up scene.
And soon he's reaching for the bell
On someone's door with news to tell
In voice that's quiet, sad, polite
That someone won't be home tonight.
I hate to scare by being graphic
But bad things happen out in traffic
When someone thinks that rules apply
To no one but the other guy.
You might never see a gun except on the hip of a police officer. There may be no one in your family who owns one. You may only know them from what you see on television or at the movies.
Unfortunately, guns are everywhere in our society. There are so many of them that some people think of them as a hazard in our environment like pollution or germs. In some communities guns are very common and bad people use them to threaten, to rob and even to kill people.
You can read in the newspapers today that young people are bringing guns to school. They think they need them to protect themselves or they carry them so that others will "respect" them. They could not be more terribly wrong.
Some are small and some are bigger.
But all of them have got a trigger.
And when you squeeze, the hammer falls
The thunder echoes through the halls,
The streets and alleys, the vacant lots,
The crowded places, the empty spots.
Then you look for some young face
And empty, empty is its place.
So, kids, I hope you don't elect
To tote a gun to gain "respect".
'Cause no one's really any bigger
Just 'cause his finger's on a trigger.
You'll grow no older or wiser, sadly.
For your tale will have ended -- and ended badly.
In the Summer of 1993, in upstate New York, a little girl named Sara Anne Wood disappeared. She was walking home along a country road and never got home. Her parents, the police and hundreds of volunteers looked everywhere for her. We saw her picture posted everywhere we went in those days.
At last, it was thought that she had died and might have been buried by the person responsible up in the Adirondack Mountains in northern New York.
It was Winter by then. For weeks the State Troopers, forest rangers, volunteers and Sara Anne's father searched in the snow and freezing cold. They were not successful.
In the Spring, the search began again. Again, it went on for many weeks. Again, they were not successful.
Some stories do not have a happy ending. The story of Sara Anne is one of those stories. But it should inspire us to appreciate the efforts that our police, our community and the people who know and love us will take to find us if we are lost -- even if the situation looks hopeless.
LITTLE GIRL LOST
(For Sara Anne Wood)
Up North, among the gloomy trees,
In chill and ice and bitter breeze,
A group of searchers probes the snow
In cold approaching ten below.
They fear that in these mountains wild's
The resting place of a poor, lost child.
They hope to God that they won't find
The thing that each has in their mind.
The months go by, the seasons change
Across the Adirondack Range.
Now rain and mud and flies and heat
Succeed as obstacles they meet.
Though none had met you, they know your face.
Your picture's posted every place.
And by their side 'mid pine and birch,
Your father's with them in their search.
You see, the Troopers and the rangers
Are very far from being strangers.
Most of them are parents, too.
They feel what yours are going through.
The Major who gives interviews
On morning and on evening news
Is not a TV talking head
Who's handed statements to be read.
His job's to keep the effort going.
Inspiring hope, though we work knowing
That we'll not find you safe and sound.
Still, we'll not stop until you're found.
The world for kids is full of dangers.
We warn you not to talk to strangers;
To stay away from guns and drugs;
From matches, knives, electric plugs.
Stay sure and steady in your belief
We'd keep you from all harm and grief.
And even if you disappear
We'll not stop looking. Never fear.
BAD DREAM OF GENIE
There is a wonderful book of stories called The Thousand Nights and a Night or The Arabian Nights. You may have heard of it. It is the book from which the stories of "Aladdin and the Genie of the Lamp" and "Sindbad the Sailor" come.
One of the stories is called "The Fisherman and the Genie". It tells of a fisherman who pulled in his net and found a bottle in it. When he opened the bottle, an ifrit -- that's what Arabs call genies -- came out.
Unlike Aladdin's genie, this genie was not a nice one at all. No wishes did he offer to grant. You see, he had been imprisoned in the bottle so long that he had become very angry and full of hate and decided that he would destroy whomever was unlucky enough to release him from the bottle.
This poem takes that story and uses it to tell about something that you might encounter in our time that is just as evil and deadly as that angry genie.
Most people don't have to be told what "crack" is. Just in case you don't know, it is an illegal drug that is sold on the street in little plastic containers called "vials". It is a very powerful drug and people who use it can easily become addicted to it. That means that they must smoke it every day or they will become miserably sick.
Crack takes over addicts' lives, forces them to think about almost nothing else, causes them to spend all their money on it and if they run out of money, they will steal from other people -- often their own families -- to get more. They end up completely alone and isolated.
Being addicted to crack or heroin or any other drug is just like being imprisoned all alone in a sealed bottle in the cold and dark at the bottom of the sea forever.
O, little man, what have you found?
What's that you've picked up from the ground?
Some funny thing that's made you smile?
I see. A little plastic vial.
It seems there's nowhere we can go
Where unseen hands have failed to sow
These seeds of death, these dragon's teeth
That litter all the ground beneath.
You ask me what was in that vial
And why it takes away my smile.
I think the best response I'm able
To give you is this little fable:
It's long ago the tale was told;
A fisherman both brave and bold
Did cast his net upon the sea
And hauled it in eventually.
Well, in that net, a bottle stuck;
And this was bad and not good luck.
In no time flat, he'd opened it
And freed its tenant -- a huge ifrit
(What we'd today a genie call)
Towering forty stories tall
And indisposed to granting wishes
For gold or jewels or even fishes.
He told our man to say his prayers
And bid goodbye to all life's cares
'Cause now he'd meet a frightful end.
That genie, see, was not his friend.
To make the tale both brief and short,
The fisherman, by all report,
Had kept about him all his wits;
Said: "Show me how that bottle fits
A genie who's as large as you."
As quick as had that genie grew
He shrunk again, jumped in the jar.
O, what a show-off. Thinks he's a star.
Our hero shut and sealed the jar
Then took that thing and hurled it far
As he could heave it from the beach
Till it landed far beyond all reach.
Well, if you're smart, you might outwit
An evil genie or ifrit.
The same, I fear, is not so true
Of what did from this vial spew.
That stuff, my boy, they call it crack.
Once it gets out, it won't go back.
Poems by Terry O'Neill. Copyright 2000
by Constantine's Circus, Inc.
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