“What’s so funny?”
I was asked that question once back in the fifth grade by a teacher after some raucous laughter on my part at a particularly inappropriate moment. I won’t go into what made me laugh at this time, Suffice to say, it certainly was something totally inappropriate and I shouldn’t have laughed.
But, lord was it funny.
Which brings up an interesting question: What does make something funny?
Certainly humor is a godsend, helping us get through life with a smile on our faces. It sometimes lightens the load, and lets us move on. Police officers are well known for having a somewhat strange sense of humor. It’s often called black humor or gallows humor. I must admit I’ve made jokes about things, some of which I would not care to repeat here, that make me cringe when I think about them. Many of them took place in very unpleasant situations, and laughing during such circumstances is certainly inappropriate and insensitive. Yet during those times the jokes and the laughter helped us get through the moment and hold on to our sense of control. In other words, if you can laugh at something, it seems a little less dire. A bit of humor can help you distance yourself from the tragedy of the situation. It is in a way, sort of a catharsis. But later on, when you look back on the joke that made you all laugh, it doesn’t seem particularly funny at all.
I’ll give you an example. I had a case once of a woman named Sharon who tried to poison her estranged husband. (Sharon was not her real name.) She told me in an interview that she’d sneaked into their apartment through a window and dumped a substantial amount of weed killer into the coffee maker. She then went back out the way she’d come, went home, and waited.
“For the telephone call telling me he was dead,” she answered.
When it didn’t come she finally called him and asked how he was feeling. When he told her he felt fine she asked, “Did you make coffee this morning?” Perplexed, he answered that he had, but hadn’t drunk any.
“Why?” he asked her.
“Because I put weed killer in the coffee maker and I want you to die!” she screamed into the phone and hung up.
At this time he checked the coffeemaker, found it was full of something strange, and called the police. He was worried because he actually had drunk several cups of coffee from the aforementioned machine that morning. Who would want to face their day without that satisfying morning cup? When I got there I looked inside it and saw a substantial amount of white granules. I immediately placed them in evidence then called the wife and told her we needed to talk. She subsequently came in and confessed to the dirty deed.
In the meantime, my partner had taken the husband to the emergency room where the doctor examined him, assessed the situation, and estimated that the amount of residual weed killer the husband had consumed was probably not significant enough to cause him harm. Probably is an interesting word, as long as you’re not talking about your own odds.
“The doc said he’d probably have to eat a couple of pounds of the stuff to be affected,” my partner said.
“I don’t imagine there are too many experiments along those lines,” I said.
“Probably not,” my partner answered.
I didn’t tell this to the wife, who was feeling some remorse sitting in one of our cells.
Now I should say here that the husband was no sterling citizen either. We’d arrested him for domestic battery to her a few weeks prior and there was a court case pending on that one. Like I said, they were a match made in heaven. What had caused their break up was another woman---Not on his part, but on hers. The situation was further complicated when one of the detectives and I had to pick up the wife’s significant other who had disposed of the weed killer can. She agreed to take us to a dumpster behind a gas station where she’d thrown it away. On the ride to the gas station I had to keep on friendly terms with her until she showed us the exact location. I noticed a tattoo on her left forearm of Popeye the Sailor Man and asked her about it.
“I got it when I was in the navy,” she said. “I got it on my left arm so they wouldn’t see it when I was saluting.”
Being a vet myself, and searching for some common ground to keep the conversation friendly, I mentioned I’d been in the army and asked how long she’d been in.
“Eleven years,” she said.
“That’s a long time,” I said. “How come you didn’t make a career out of it?”
“I got kicked out,” she said.
I made the mistake of asking why and she shot me a mean-looking stare.
“Why do you think?” she said.
This was way before “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”
The ride had a way of ending conversation, but we were suddenly at the gas station. The dumpster was huge, and fully loaded.
My partner and I exchanged glances and decided to flip for it. I lost and, yeah, I went dumpster diving. Are you laughing yet? Maybe thinking of me pawing around in a ton of greasy trash, all in the line of duty, trying to find the aforementioned can is making you smile a little? Let me tell you, it was no laughing matter. However, I did locate it. Of course, I needed a shower and a change of clothes, but we had our evidence and we were in the home stretch. After a lengthy session in the locker room shower stall, it was time to call the Assistant State’s Attorney’s office (felony review) to discuss the case.
“Weed killer?” the ASA said, “What the hell’s wrong with her? Why didn’t she use plain old rat poison, or something?”
“Maybe she was trying to go green,” I offered. “But let me tell you what I had to go through to recover the evidence.” I recounted my experience in the dumpster in great detail. It was still fresh in my mind. And my nose--- I felt like I’d used Eau de Garbage as an aftershave.
He chuckled a few times but decided that since very little, if any, bodily harm was done, not to approve a felony charge, so we went with a misdemeanor charge instead of a more serious felony. This was all right with me even though I had another date with the shower and washing machine.
To make a long story short, it all worked out in court. They’d each agreed to drop the charges in their respective cases against each other and go their separate ways. I mentioned to my partner that I ran into the husband somewhat later and asked how he was doing.
“He have any adverse effects?” my partner asked.
“No, but every time he hears a lawn mower now he breaks out in hives.” We shared a good laugh over that one, and I kind of lost track of the trio of wayward individuals.
I know you think the story ends there, but it doesn’t. About a year or so later I was coming on duty and found a voice-mail message from the ex-navy girlfriend. Why she’d called me, I had no idea, but she sounded very distraught when I called her back.
“You remember me? I’m Sharon’s husband,” she explained. “I took you to that dumpster behind the gas station.”
Who could forget?
“The ex-sailor with the Popeye tattoo, right?”
“What can I do for you?” I asked.
“Me and Sharon had a domestic disturbance. She took up with some (expletive deleted) in Joliet.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said.
“We had a big fight and she called the cops.”
“They took me to jail.”
I considered this. “Did you give the officers a hard time?”
“No,” she said quickly, then added, “Well, maybe a little bit.” Her voice cracked and she asked, “What’s gonna happen to me now?”
The poor gal sounded on the verge of tears, and I always have a soft spot for a fellow veteran. I told her to slow down, and read me the complaints that were signed against her. One was battery, for touching her significant other inappropriately, and the other one, signed by the arresting officer, was battery to a police officer, i.e., for grabbing his groin in such a manner that caused physical pain and injury.
“Hell, I’ve never touched one of those things in my life and don’t intend to,” she said. “Can I go to jail for this?”
I told her she could, but probably wouldn’t. After a few minutes of trying to assure her that things weren’t quite as bad as they seemed, I suggested she hire a lawyer to represent her and wished her luck. A few days later I saw the officer who’d been involved in the arrest in court and mentioned the call. Naturally, he gave a slightly different version of the events. His face got a real pained expression on it as he said, “Man, that broad was something else. I never had someone grab me like that. She’s as strong as a bull.”
“Well, she did spend eleven years in the navy,” I said.
“Yeah? The SEALS?” he asked with a grin. “Well, I’m thinking of bankrolling her in the next Ultimate Fighting Championship.”
Once again, both found ourselves laughing at something that when you think about it, really wasn’t very funny. Or was it?
Sometimes the dark side of life can be lightened with a flash of humor. And if you can learn to laugh at things, including yourself, the whole world doesn’t seem quite so grim.
And after all, into the garden of life a few weeds must grow. Just make sure you use enough weed killer.