During the short and unhappy time that I was relegated to an administrative position at the PD, I became an undisputed expert in the field of clutter management. I owe my unheralded proficiency in this area to my one of my former bosses. I was summoned to his office one morning and found him in a semi-state of anxiety. It seems that a deadline for the completion of a project was almost overdue, and he was wringing his hands over his inability to finish it. I took a look and told him to e-mail it to my work computer. I then sat down and managed to tidy things up for him so it got submitted under the deadline. Now you’d think that would have ingratiated me to the man, right? Well, unfortunately, there are those in this world who love to take credit for things, but don’t like to share it. Thus, my role in the completion of the project was relegated to the background. Not that this bothered me. I was used to being part of a team, and as someone once said, “There is no “I” in “TEAM.”
I later realized my mistake. I’d made it look too easy. After that first time, I became the “go to guy” for any troublesome projects. Once again, it was all part of the job, so I said nothing. What bothered me was that I kept getting handed these priority jobs that had to be done immediately, and had to shift all my usual work to the side. Remember that old Clint Eastwood movie, Dirty Harry? Eastwood’s partner keeps asking him why they call him “Dirty Harry,” but Clint never answers. Finally, after responding to a call of a suicidal subject on a ledge, Clint has the Fire Department use a cherry-picker to lift him up to talk to the guy. Eastwood manages to make the guy so angry he takes a swing at him, at which time Eastwood knocks the guy out with one punch and holds him until he’s been safely lowered to the ground. As he walks off without any accolades from the brass, Eastwood turns to his young partner and says, “Now you know why they call me Dirty Harry… Every dirty job that comes along.”
I thought about that line as more and more of the important, last minute projects kept getting shoved my way. I also had numerous grant projects to write, a huge year-long traffic program to create and maintain, and a multitude of training sessions I had to set up. Consequently, my desk and then my office became more and more cluttered. Through it all, I somehow managed to get everything done, but I freely admit that my desk was awash in paperwork. I was also informed that due to a budget shortfall, I couldn’t put in for overtime. I had files stacked in various places on my desk, and soon ran out of room. I pulled up a couple of chairs and set more stacks on those.
When I ran out of chairs, I began using the floor. I lined up boxes of stuff against the wall.
After seeing the stacks in my office, one of my friends sent me a superhero action-figure that was still in its package. He’d doctored up the cardboard backing by pasting my name and title across the top. Below my name, where they display the special powers of the hero, he’d pasted, “Paper shuffling action feature.” I laughed so hard that I hung the figure, still in its plastic case, on the wall. One day my boss waltzed into my office with another “drop everything and do it” assignment. He tried to drop it on my desk, but there was no room, so he handed it to me, saying he needed this to be a priority. As he turned and walked out, he stopped, turned, and said, “This office is a mess.”
“It sure is,” I said proudly.
“Clean it up,” he said, and left.
Yeah, I was starting to feel a bit like old Dirty Harry… “Every dirty job that comes along…”
As I’ve said before, I grew to despise being cooped up in the office. I longed to be back on the street, running the shift, solving problems, helping people, and answering calls. The clutter pile grew and when anyone commented on it, I would reply, “If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, what does an empty desk signify?”
The story had a happy ending. After winning a national award on the traffic program I’d written and executed, I won first in the state and first in the nation. This meant an expense-paid trip out to beautiful San Diego to accept the award. But I wasn’t the only one who went. My boss took the stage ahead of me and took possession of the award. He didn’t even let me touch it. Shortly thereafter, as part of the prize, the department was also awarded a brand new, decked to the gills squad car. When it was delivered a month or so later, the brass jumped inside to be photographed by the newspaper reporters and naturally took credit for winning it. This bothered me a little, but after all, there is no “WE” in “TEAM” either.
I rotated back to the street after that, and served the last few years of my police career as a patrol supervisor. It was the best job I ever had. Cleaning out my office was a bit of a task, but I managed to clear out most of the stacks for my successor. That superhero “paper-shuffling action feature” came in handy. And as for that brand new squad car that we’d won, I got the last laugh on that one, too. It was assigned as one of the patrol supervisor cars, and I got to drive it.