CHICAGO, January 10, 2013— Today I turned the big 60. 60 is the new 40, 30, or 80, depending on how you or your beat up body feels. Over the past week I have been doing some introspective thinking, otherwise known as wool gathering or gazing at navel lint.
Life is a journey they say; some call it the journey of life. Somewhere, around 40 or 45 you realize you are not 25 anymore and you cannot do the things you used to. Sometimes you forget and pay the price- whether it is physical exertion or overindulgence of adult beverages. This is what Tom Clancy refers to in one of his novels as the “journey of death”. You have reached the apex of life and it is downhill to death from now on.
I came of age during the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was the age of protest, the Age of Aquarius, a time of social and civil unrest, revolution, and change. It was a time of great idealism and most of us bought the Kool Aid thinking we could change the world in a haze of sex, drugs, booze, and rock and roll. We also bought the music, some of the greatest music ever written and recorded.
I started working in 1965 at the age of twelve. I was gainfully employed, part and full time until the day I retired in 2007. I have been on my own since I was 18 or 19 years old. I still work and try to hustle a living. Idealism does not buy you things when you are young and does little to pay the bills when you finally become an independent adult. Reality has a way of biting you on the rear end.
The two greatest experiences of my life were the military and the Chicago Police Department. In the military I learned about structure, cooperation, and teamwork. The mission, no matter how menial or trivial, had to be accomplished whether or not you liked the people you were assigned to work with, how competent or incompetent they were, or how industrious or malingering. You showed up where you were supposed to be, when you were supposed to be there- preferably sooner, and you did what ever you were ordered to do there. Of course you improvised as much as possible to accomplish whatever had to be done.
Working as a police officer you are thrown into the largest social science and behavioral laboratory in the world. Some times it is an insane asylum. Nothing is as it seems. Reality is as real as it gets. You are always amazed at what people can and will do. You are also amazed that intelligence or education makes no difference. People of all backgrounds always surprise you with their inhumanity, cruelty or stupidity.
My youthful philosophy was always live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse. I worked hard, lived hard, and played even harder. I, like many callow youth, felt indestructible and invincible. Somewhere around 50, I changed that to live slow, die old, and be cremated.
I learned early on how short life is. In grammar school one of my best friends committed suicide. In high school I witnessed the evil of drugs and the drug trade when my friends started dropping like flies from overdoses. Friends and co-workers died in their twenties through forties from disease or in the line of duty, leaving young families behind.
I witnessed real poverty, the crushing, humiliating, and debasing kind. I also learned the heartfelt generosity of poor people who gave, even though they had very little themselves. I realized that the poor would always be with us, as they have been since biblical times. Maybe Reverend Ike was right all along when he said, “The only way to help the poor is not to join them”.
Working for government and interacting with politicians you learn one thing. They are self-serving. There is no such thing as serving the public or the people. I have come to the conclusion that politics is a war on people. There are no Democrats or Republicans, no conservatives, liberals, or progressives. There is only the political class and they are at war with the upper, middle, and lower classes. They are fomenting class warfare across the board to keep their paychecks, perks, and pensions. The old adage is true. You can always tell a politician is lying when his or her lips are moving.
Most politicians, maybe even a vast majority of them, could not make it in the private sector even in the most mind numbing menial jobs. They lack basic skills, intelligence, and common sense. I have come to the point that I would vote for a semi-literate blue collar worker who speaks in malapropisms, can balance a checkbook and live within his means versus the over educated idiots, Mensa morns, and crepuscular cretins who are running things today.
One other thing I learned, especially since I started writing and photojournalism. People are generous, even total strangers. People you interact with or even compete with for stories or pictures want to help you be your best. This generosity is contagious and circular in nature. You start to practice it.
Being a parent is beyond description. There is no other calling like it. There is no love like the love for your child or children.
There is one other thing I realized, as I grew older. I am prejudiced, biased, bigoted, discriminatory, and a hater. I know there is some ist, ism, or phobia to describe my total lack of humanity towards certain people. My apologies to people. I really hate, loath, and despise annoying, ill mannered, and impolite people. I do not tolerate or accept them. There should be laws banning their behavior. They should not be allowed to marry, inter-marry with normal people, have children or be allowed to adopt children.
I learned one very important lesson yesterday. Never argue with government. I went to renew my driver’s license. I tried to argue with the low life, blood-sucking bureaucrat that my hair was black. He kept insisting it was gray. And to think, he made me take an eye test.
Peter V. Bella is a retired Chicago Police Officer, freelance journalist and photojournalist, cook, and raconteur. He likes to be the irreverent sharp stick that pokes, prods, and annoys. His opinions are his and his alone. Mr. Bella is a member of the National Press Photographers Association, Online News Association, Chicago Headline Club, and the Society for Professional Journalists.
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