Can’t clear a room

Author: natalie  //  Category: Baytown, Texas

Last Tuesday night I was (very briefly) trained on the finer points of clearing a room. It’s an ability that conjures up some negative connotations – think obnoxious people who enjoy dominating group discussion, or hygiene issues that make life unpleasant for others. That’s not at all to what I refer. By the end of the evening I determined I needed lots of practice and that I freeze at critical moments.  

Recall that I’ve been in the Baytown Police Department’s 10-week Citizen Police Academy.  I only have two more classes to complete before I graduate.  I pay attention as best I can, it’s interesting stuff, but you all know my mind wanders. So, I probably missed some of what it takes to “clear a room” – removing the bad guys and living to tell about it. 

Under Feng Shui (that’s pronounced fung shway) decorating principles, clearing a room is an early part of creating an environment that provides harmony and inner balance. Clutter and anything that inhibits harmony, balance, and flow of life are removed. I bet I’m the first to liken police work to decorating, and the guys will no doubt be happy that’s how I saw it. And they made it look much better than I ever could.

One step to creating Feng Shui is to meditate on a room’s energy, take deep breaths, close the eyes, and concentrate on your intentions to clear the room. I did just that as I put on a helmet and throat protection and listened to my “assignment”.  Then I was patted down (having never been arrested, that was a different experience) for additional weapons before being armed with approved gear: a flashlight and a “simunition gun”, which is a real gun with a modified barrel to shoot rounds capped with colored detergent instead of actual bullets.

My call: The owner of a vacant farmhouse reported hooligans on his property. They had been seen outside and possibly entered the dwelling. It was nighttime, and there were no lights. Since they were not outside, my partner (Jeff) and I had to search and clear three rooms.

Sounded easy enough, but when you’re in an unfamiliar, pitch-black place with real police officers –armed with toy weapons – hiding and waiting to catch you off guard, it’s enough to cause heavy mouth-breathing that fogs up the helmet.

Entry was made, and I was trying to “slice the pie” (don’t really know how to explain that other than to say stand and rotate in a fashion like slicing a pie, only it’s a room)  when I was immediately confronted by a roaring brick wall. (Officer Beasley. He spends a little time pumping iron when he’s not educating the public on crime prevention.)

Contrary to a figuratively colorful hour-long Power Point training session and demonstrations with Officers Latta and Coleman, I froze.  Bad-guy Beasley came at us, yelling. He could have killed me, and I could have shot him, but I just stood there. My partner, sensing I was useless, took over. Bad guy complied with verbal commands and I got to ‘cuff him.  Whew!  Only two more rooms to go.

Second room was cleared easily enough; it was empty. Third room had another suspect. Because I had great skill in shining the flashlight, I let Jeff do all the yelling. Second suspect was taken into custody and we were finished.  It was a good thing because I wasn’t enjoying the sauna in that helmet. I came out unscathed save for some chipped toenail polish – my fault for “going in” wearing flip-flops.

In the end, the entire class had a new appreciation for how difficult it can be walking into the unknown – acting and reacting accordingly. In a way, I’m glad I can’t clear a room. There was nothing harmonious or inner-balancing about it. Tough stuff.  My helmet’s off to those who do it well.


Last first day is only hours away

Author: natalie  //  Category: Life with children

Tomorrow will be an interesting day – one with possibilities of going a couple of divergent ways – a classic case of contradiction.  Seems to be how I roll lately. I don’t know why I should expect any different. The suspense is terrific!

School bells will ring in the 2009-2010 school year at 7:20, 7:50, and 8:30 a.m. for the Whatley brood. The early hours of Monday will zip by so fast that I’ll not have time to think about them until they’re spent and I’m back home alone where it will be quiet enough to hear myself think. True to form, though, I’m going to worry about it a little ahead of time.

Since I spent a good portion of the summer weeks submerged in perpetual movement and noise, on the surface I’ll be angels-singing joyful, frolicking about with a spring in my step. But I’ll be crying on the inside. Tomorrow will be the last first day of elementary school for me. The baby (don’t tell her I called her that) is starting fifth grade. She’s ready, and I think I am, too.

It’s going to be a bittersweet moment, and I’m unsure which one will stick with me when I exit the rollercoaster I’m bound to ride. As of this writing, I’m pretty pumped over being so close to moving on. But lately, things I never saw coming have taken me by surprise, so I’m trying to consider all the angles ahead of time and prepare proper responses.

The bitter: Aside from the fact she’s growing up, all these years she’s kept me from feeling too aged as my oldest entered junior high and high school. Some shred of youth can be maintained while one’s offspring are still in elementary. Next year, she’ll no longer be there, middle child will leave junior high, oldest will graduate, and I’ll turn 40. I’m trying to brace for it now as I suspect it may be cataclysmic. Not exactly what I had in mind when, on any given ordinary day, I hoped for something to rock my world.

The sweet: Only one more year of all the elementary-school trappings. I can’t help being excited; this will be my fourth time through – the third time in 11 long years. I’ll push through and sustain my attention while I ramp up my underwhelming enthusiasm; she’s well worth it. This will also be the year teachers will encourage a little more academic independence. Thank goodness! I’m just about spent in that department.  I’m available for help, as needed, but I’m ready to cheer from the sidelines instead of being in the game.

It seems such a short time ago, I took her to her first day of kindergarten. And I, thinking I’d need to fill some time, took a part-time job working with pre-school-aged children. I spent that school year discovering I was very much past all that entails that age group. Nothing against the little munchkins; they’re cute, sweet, and melt my heart with their innocence, but they’re also exhausting and ooze from places I didn’t want to deal with any more.  

All the girlie preparation – hair, clothes, etc. – is done.  We shopped, shopped some more and spent hours playing our own little version of dress-up.  Then we discussed the need for additional shopping   when the weather turns cooler. The men of the house sighed, rolled their eyes, and asked why she needed so many different pairs of shoes. Silly boys!

I have no idea what tomorrow morning will bring, but I’ve gathered my own set of school supplies: Kleenex and upbeat music for the lone ride home and dancing shoes for when I get home. Silence has a glorious rhythm.

© 2009 Natalie Whatley

Roads, leprechauns, and ledges

Author: natalie  //  Category: It's all about me

Warning: It’s weird. It’s a little dark, and I know it. I told you my little mind trips have been taking me to some surprising places. A padded room may be next.

Last week I announced the probable location of Baytown’s newest red-light camera: the intersection of Natalie Street and Whatley Drive. Upon further review, my map needs a little rearranging.  Those roads should be running parallel and in the same direction. My subconscious obviously saw them as being cross-ways–an accurate representation as summer winds down.

Pondering that revelation, I determined a red-light camera wasn’t exactly what I needed to get back on track. Because there are shadows floating in and out of my peripheral vision, blinders would probably be a better choice–less expensive, too.

For whatever unknown reason–and I’m hoping it’s not some sort of mid-life-crisis thing–I’m terribly distracted and antsy lately. Not my usual modus operandi. To make matters worse, I found that psychologists liken mid-life to adolescence. Whoa! The fact that I have two true adolescents and one getting closer by the minute living in the same house proves The Big Guy has an incredible sense of humor. Maybe I’ll feel like laughing when all the angst subsides.

I get in a frenzy of knowing what needs to be done and when, but end up chasing little diversions and forgetting what it was I set out to do in the first place. I guess that’s better than pursuing imaginary leprechauns, but I worry because I read in a New York Magazine article by Sam Anderson that distracted was once a synonym for insane. Top ‘o the mornin’ to ya! Want to help me find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?

It also turns out that there are gradations and categories of distraction, as well as a fair amount of arguing among experts. Go figure.

There’s the good, receptive/reflective distraction; the bad, deceptive distraction; and the ugly result of procrastination. I’m a jack-of-all-the-distractive trades with seeming mastery of the negatives.

The receptive variety recharges mental batteries producing empty space for creativity and forward progress.  It is achieved by quiet (haven’t heard enough of that since school let out) tasks such as taking a solitary walk, or lying back and allowing the mind to clear—good, healthy detours. (Clear mind? I’ll need moving boxes . . . lots and lots of moving boxes. Is it really a “solitary” walk if there are several voices in my head carrying on conversations with me? Just wondering.)

Then there’s deceptive distraction –e-mail, Facebook (I’m far too introverted for it, but I try to be sociable), online discussion forums, phone calls—tangents that supposedly work against productivity. Those aren’t problematic for me, I don’t think (denial?), and I’d argue they actually help me perform the solitary job that is writing—gets the creative juices flowing, so to speak.

What has me staring into darkness during the wee hours, and preoccupied during the day is far bigger.  If I could put my finger on it, I’d squash it before it robbed me of another second. But it’s elusive, and not ready to be caught.

So, maybe I’ll get those blinders and hope they keep me on the straight and narrow until whatever this is passes. My dilemma, besides looking ridiculous: Some days, heck, weeks, put me out on a proverbial ledge, and I don’t want to talk myself down. I’d rather dive and feel the freedom of flight, if only for a brief moment. How tragic would it be, to miss seeing who was standing next to me? 

© 2009 Natalie Whatley


Red-light camera coming to my intersection

Author: natalie  //  Category: It's all about me

Twenty months ago, I introduced myself with an article entitled “Mid-life has come to roost in my nest”. I announced embarkation on a new journey – flying solo during school hours– and gave you all permission to enjoy a hearty laugh over ungraceful landings. I’ve had a few.  

As I near the end of summer (only 14 days, 22 hours, 55 minutes, and 12 seconds until school starts, but who’s counting?), my brain is gearing up for the 2009-2010 excursion. The preparatory mind trips have been great fun and taken me to surprising locations. However, sparks have flown as the new me pushed the accelerator to the floor, while the old me stomped on the brakes—not good for the rear-end of one’s vehicle and leads to costly repairs. (Ask my oldest. He’s well versed and lighter in the wallet.)

Since I don’t wish to cause major damage to myself or those around me, an expensive piece of equipment, designed to gain compliance for my internal traffic lights, will be installed. You heard me right. A red-light camera is in the works for the intersection of Natalie Street and Whatley Drive.

I know some of you disagree. “It’s Big Brother watching”, you’ll say, followed by, “I’ll see you in court!” But it’s in my best interest.  A cost/benefit analysis shows I’ll recoup the massive expenditure in fines collected –far quicker than I’d like to admit.

As is customary, my first order of back-to-school business will be working off summer’s deplorable eating habits. It’s getting harder as I get older. I give up faster with each passing year, retaining an increasing portion of what was gained. By 50, I should be somewhere in the can’t-fit-through-the-door-frame range.

While lunching on spinach salad, I’ll enjoy a glowing green light. When my thoughts veer to chocolate, a yellow, and when I hit the pantry foraging, “discover” what I’m looking for because only I know the location of the mother lode, a you-better-stop red.  As soon as it crosses my teeth, FLASH! Could there be any better motivation than a snapshot of the rear to bring about compliance?  

The next item on my agenda involves using restraint of a different kind. I admitted long ago to being a political junkie. You folks have been spared most of it, but others in my path haven’t been so lucky. I’ll be sporting green while my tongue is in the grips of my fangs. Upon release, a yellow, and 3.2 seconds to gain control. When the tirade begins, FLASH!  I won’t have to question whether or not my comments ruffled feathers. There will be photographic proof that I showed my back-side.

And the flip-side, tickets will be sent to those who, in my humble opinion, ride my hind-end for an unjustified reason. Green lights for those who appeal to my benevolent nature and politely request additions to my shopping list. Yellow for complaints regarding my inability to read minds and 2.8 seconds to see the error of his or her ways. “There’s nothing to eat! When are you going shopping?” FLASH! Exceptions will be made for those who come to a complete stop and turn right.  

Some say collisions will be reduced, while others claim I’ll just get rich off the revenue. I don’t know, but it would be nice if a certain somebody would quit jamming on the brakes at the mere sight of a yellow–creates an issue when I follow too closely.

© 2009 Natalie Whatley

Sure shootin’ and a big heart

Author: natalie  //  Category: Baytown, Texas

BAYTOWN — North Main, Tuesday, 9:12 p.m. Two men and a female argue at the rear of a faded red truck. As I approach, the verbal exchange escalates and turns physical. One man is getting the better of the other with the hysterical female fueling the fire. Pulling a Glock 9mm to the front of my body, I move closer and shout, “Stop! Back away from each other!” over the screaming female.

Turning his eyes to me while shoving the object of his anger down and away, the aggressor sneers, and through gritting teeth addresses my intrusion. “Who called you here? This doesn’t concern you!”

The receiver of the brief, but violent beating slumps over at the waist, fighting to catch his breath. The woman, running in small rambling circles between the men, raves, attends to the injured party, and begs for it all to stop.

Before taking swift, boot-clad steps in my direction, the aggressor grabs a tire-iron from the back of the truck and centers it in the narrowing gap between us. “Put the weapon down and BACK UP!” I command. Snarling he raises the iron well above my head and lunges forward. Synapses firing rapidly reach my index finger. BANG! One shot to the center of the chest and he retreats . . . forever.

A little training and time spent at the shooting range saved my life. The whole thing was over in less than five seconds.  

Did the above really happen? Yes and no. You’ll never believe what I’ve been up to in my spare time. (Granny Adcox is probably worried sick. The big ants I mentioned last week caused her to be concerned for my well-being. She wrote and called. I make her concern public because another columnist, I’ll call him “Gaston”, and I have a little non-sibling rivalry going over Granny’s affections. He wants her all to himself –said he’d fight me for her.)

It all happened for real—inside a training room at the Baytown Police Department’s Police Academy building. It was brought to me as part of my participation in the Citizen Police Academy Class. I’m less than a third of the way through the basic curriculum, and there’s also an advanced class. I’ll fill you in on the complete experience after I graduate.

Our group was fortunate enough to be in session when the FATS – Firearm Training Simulator – was in town for BPD’s annual training session. The simulator, a computer with interactive gadgets, places students in realistic confrontations where split-second decisions must be made.

I was the last of my class to take a turn. I’ve never needed any help looking foolish, and being “tested” with about twenty people looking on – some highly trained and seasoned officers – was a little unnerving, but I did it. And I killed the bad guy with one well-placed shot.

While I had a little fun with my make-believe scenario, what I gathered from the evening was that lethal force is no joking matter. No normal human being wants to be put in a position to use it. I got a feel for how quickly things turn bad and how the human mind struggles to function clearly during what’s called an “adrenaline dump”.

It takes training and practice to overcome and effectively use the “fight or flight” mechanism. Often, muscle memory gained through repetitive training must step in while the brain catches up. It was comforting to hear from Instructor Extraordinaire, Crime Prevention Specialist Stewart Beasley, that most officers (and I assume even more civilians) go their entire lives without being in the situations put forth by the simulator.

Thanks, guys, for teaching me some things I hope my muscles never have to remember.

And since I’m such a good shot, “Gaston” probably doesn’t want to tangle with me. No matter. I aim to believe Granny Adcox has room enough in her big heart for the both of us. Another bull’s-eye! 

© 2009 Natalie Whatley