The Top 10 Crime Series of All Time

In light of my recent musings about El Chapo and the ever-shrinking gulf that separates fact from fiction in the real world, I thought I would visit the other side of the coin.

Here are my top 10 most favorite television crime series of all time.

Just to be clear, my definition of a “crime show,” is one in which crime is a central thematic element. Many shows of other genres will dabble in crime, but they are not the main emphasis. Also, programs such as Glee, Duck Dynasty, Grey’s Anatomy and Hardball with Chris Matthews don’t count. They may perpetrate crimes against society by their very existence, but they don’t use it as a fictional device on a regular basis. Well…Chris Matthews…never mind.

Here we go!:

#10. Perry Mason:

This is the pioneer of the television courtroom drama. Raymond Burr plays Perry Mason, a lawyer who will go the limit to defend his client, who is always innocent of the murder of which he/she is accused. Erle Stanley Gardner’s series of novels are vividly brought to life by Burr and company in all of their black-and-white glory. The first three seasons come closest to the spirit of the literary version, featuring Perry Mason as more of a renegade who is unafraid to skirt the boundaries of the law, thereby creating an adversarial relationship with Lt. Tragg and open hostility between Mason and D.A. Hamilton Burger. The show is formulaic; you’ve seen one episode, you’ve seen’em all. Yet, there is no spectacle that is more entertaining than Perry Mason closing in on the real murderer in court.

#9. Justified:

Another literary adaptation, this one from the pen of Elmore Leonard. The series features Timothy Olyphant as U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens, who is transferred to his home in Kentucky as punishment after the questionable shooting of a suspect. Raylan must contend with his violent past while chasing his childhood friend, Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) along with an assortment of other colorful criminals. The series is uneven at times, but the joy comes in the off-beat dialogue and vast arrayed of characters that are so common to Leonard’s stories.

#8. Prime Suspect:

The only entry in the top 10 that comes to us from across the pond. This British series features Helen Mirren as DCI Jane Tennison, a female cop who copes with sexism in the workplace while chasing serial killers, pedophiles and the like. Though feminism is a recurring theme throughout the series, it is not done to death. Tennison is not the minority super cop that you often see in Hollywood. Like her fictional male counterparts, she struggles with alcoholism and a damaged social life in the wake of her career, but at the end of the day, she is a talented cop who knows how to catch a bad guy.

#7. Fargo:

This series is based on the Coen Brothers cult classic film from 1996. I found the movie to be cartoonish and farcical, but the TV series (while existing in the same universe) is a much more three-dimensional presentation. It is a limited series, meaning that each season is comprised of different characters from a different time period in the same setting.

Season one stars Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman and Allison Tolman. It concerns a sociopathic hit man who stops in a small town in Minnesota and has a chance encounter with a downtrodden businessman. Soon, bodies start falling and a local lady cop takes interest. The second season stars Kirsten Dunst, Patrick Wilson and Jean Smart and concerns the war of two Midwestern crime syndicates and the subsequent police investigation in 1979.

The series features alternately dark, quirky humor and brutal violence, but at it’s heart are relatable, fully-realized characters.

6. The Shield:

“The road to justice is twisted.”

That is the tagline of The Shield, and it couldn’t be more apt. This police drama is anything but a procedural, featuring four crooked cops attached to an anti-gang squad in L.A. Michael Chiklis stars as Vic Mackey, a cop who has learned that street justice is far more effective than the law. If he and his partners can line their pockets along the way, so be it. But, as always, nothing is ever as simple as it seems.

#5. Columbo:

This series is known as the inverted detective mystery; you see the criminal commit the crime and then watch as the cop unravels his/her supposed perfect scheme. In this case, the cop is an unlikely hero; a diminutive slob who constantly wears a raincoat, smokes a cigar and is far less stupid and bumbling than he seems. Peter Falk plays Columbo to perfection and is always able to outwit those who think themselves superior. Some of his best foils include Jack Cassidy, Robert Culp and Leonard Nimoy. It’s also worth noting that the original movies that were featured as a part of the NBC Mystery Movie lineup in the 1970’s are the best. The revival movies that aired on ABC from 1989 through 2003 tend to play up Columbo’s eccentricities for comical effect and are therefore not as compelling.

#4. The Rockford Files:

From the ’50’s through the ’80’s, the television landscape was littered with private eye shows. The cream of the crop is Jim Rockford, played by James Garner. Rockford was a man wrongly convicted of a crime and sentenced to prison before receiving a full pardon. Jim decides to become a private detective as a means of balancing a flawed system. While other TV private eyes were consummate womanizers who drove fancy cars, dressed in smart suits and carried a gun, Jim was quite the opposite. He lived in a rundown trailer, hid a gun in his cookie jar, seldom wound up in bed with the woman of the case, lost more fistfights than he won and usually had a hard time getting his clients to pay his bill. The assets that carry Jim along are his charm and his brains. Garner’s likability, along with intelligent writing, are what make The Rockford Files a timeless classic.

#3. Homicide: Life on the Street:

The progenitor of the television police procedural is Dragnet. But if you ask me what the definitive cop show of all time is, I have to say, Homicide. It is adapted from David Simon’s book, “Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets.” It features the homicide squad of the Baltimore police department and chronicles the lives of the investigators as they go from one dead body to another. But it’s not merely about the solving of the case. Homicide takes an in-depth look at the cops who deal with man’s inhumanity to man on a daily basis and the toll that the job takes on them. The breakout star was Andre Braugher who played Frank Pembleton, a gifted cop who was a master at eliciting a confession from a suspect. Other noteworthy performances include Kyle Secor as Tim Bayliss, the troubled rookie of the unit, Melissa Leo as Kay Howard, the only female detective in the squad and Richard Belzer as John Munch. Yes, it’s the same Munch who later went on to Law & Order: SVU, though the Munch of Homicide is far more nuanced and funny than the later incarnation.

Sidebar: Katy, if you’re reading this, listen up. If there’s one show that I want you to watch and hope you’ll appreciate, it’s Homicide. If you’re not reading this…yer silly.

#2. The Sopranos:

A mafia boss starts having panic attacks, so he goes to a therapist to talk about his problems. And man, what problems he has! A nagging wife, spoiled kids, untrustworthy business associates, snooping FBI agents and worst of all…a vengeful mother who wants to see him dead. That’s a surface description of this groundbreaking epic. Beneath the surface, there is so much more. James Gandolfini does a masterful job of bringing Tony Soprano, father, husband, Mafioso and murderer, to life. Through six seasons of whackings, family drama, double crossings and therapy sessions, we watch Tony and can’t look away. Is he a sympathetic figure or a monster? You be the judge.

And…who is the one knocking at our number one spot?

Drum roll…bitch!

#1. Breaking Bad:

None of my friends who are reading this will be surprised that this is my top pick. A high school chemistry teacher gets lung cancer and starts cooking meth so that he can provide for his family after he’s gone. On paper, it looks stupid. On the small screen, it is sheer brilliance. Many networks (including HBO) passed up on this little dark horse. Five seasons later, after multiple Emmy awards and massive critical and fan love, they all regretted it. Bryan Cranston’s turn as a man who experiences the ultimate midlife crisis, transforming from mild-mannered Walter White to the ruthless drug lord known as Heisenberg is a sight to behold. Also noteworthy is the performance of Aaron Paul as Jesse, his former high school student who becomes his unwilling partner in crime, Anna Gunn is Walter’s too-smart wife and Dean Norris as Hank, Walt’s brother-in-law who just happens to be a DEA agent. This series is beautifully shot, masterfully written and superbly acted. It’s the only series on this list that doesn’t have a single glaring flaw.

Honorable Mentions: Dragnet (1951), Law & Order (original series), Sherlock, Hill Street Blues, The Equalizer, Boardwalk Empire, Terriers and Broadchurch.

Extra-Special Honorable Mention: I know what some of you may be angrily muttering right now. “Damn you, RyanO! You snubbed The Wire…again! You’re no better than those Emmy whores!”

Look, I respect The Wire as much as the next guy. Yes, it’s a smart, densely-plotted crime epic full of social commentary about how the drug war in America is failing. I’ve seen it once and, while I respect it mightily, the rewatchability factor is way low. Next to The Sopranos and Breaking Bad, it’s still bottom of the barrel in the gloomsville department. Right or wrong, it’s just not in my top 10 favorites. Besides, David Simon gets his due for Homicide. Take it and be happy.

P.S.: Katy, if you’re still reading this, you’re probably wondering, “Hey! Where’s Dexter!? Yer silly.” Dexter is the perfect example of a show that starts out great and takes a massive nosedive half-way through. The finale was so hideous…so ludicrous…that I can’t even place it in the honorable mentions slot because the resolution ruins the entire experience for me. I know this makes you say, “Eep!” but your dark passenger will just have to deal.

Di Mi Nombre…Bitch!

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a big fan of crime fiction. Whether it is literature, movies or a television series, I love a tale full of cops, gangsters, gunfights and bloody deaths. I usually admire the writing, the acting, the thematic presentations and, in the case of Breaking Bad, I experience a bit of wish fulfillment. I admit it. Sometimes, it’s fun to root for the bad guys. I wanted Walter White to win his war against Gus Fring. When Michael Corleon sought vengeance during the climax of The Godfather, I silently cheered. After all, those cinema villains are cool, right? Sure!

And then, there’s real life, embodied by the likes of Joaquim Guzman. He’s known to his friends and admirers as, El Chapo.

If you don’t follow current events, you may be wondering who El Chapo is. If you’re a fan of the show, 24, think of Ramon Salazar. If you’re not a fan of 24, think of a Mexican version of The Godfather, or Tony Montana, or Heisenberg. If you don’t get any of those references, I can’t do anything for ya.

El Chapo is one of the biggest drug lords in the world, possibly of all time. His exact age is unknown, though he’s estimated to be around 60. He’s wed at least four spouses and sired at least 11 children. As the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, he is one of the biggest dealers of cocaine, meth, heroin and pot in Mexico, North America and Europe. He has been arrested three times and has escaped from prison twice. He has committed scores of murders and ordered hundreds more.

El Chapo (which is Mexican slang for Shorty), has the kind of biography that makes him legendary in certain quarters. It’s also the kind of story that only a Hollywood directorial legend such as Martin Scorsese could love. Maybe that’s what Hollywood actor/activist Sean Penn was thinking when he arranged to interview El Chapo on behalf of Rolling Stone Magazine. Penn conducted the interview in secret after El Chapo had escaped from a prison in Mexico for the second time. To characterize the interview as a puff piece would be generous. It was little better than a love fest, with Penn excusing much of El Chapo’s criminal behavior due to his impoverished upbringing; a claim that is dubious at best.

It is not my intention to excoriate the virtues of El Chapo. He doesn’t have any. Nor will I waste energy in the condemnation of Sean Penn. His actions are perfectly predictable. As an extreme leftist, Penn never met a despot or thug whom he didn’t love. He has openly championed the likes of Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, while characterizing George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice as, “Villainously and criminally obscene people.” His work with Rolling Stone is not his first foray into the world of advocate journalism. He has written articles for the San Francisco Chronicle, the Huffington Post and the Washington Post. He is the quintessential example of a celebrity with no real journalistic credibility who uses his fame to bolster himself as an authority on politics.

The larger question to be considered is this. How did we get to a place in our society where Sean Penn could write such a biased article about El Chapo And have it taken seriously by the public and the mainstream media?

It’s not just that El Chapo is considered to be a sort of countercultural celebrity in many circles. We’ve had our share of criminals throughout history who have been romanticized and mythologized. Think of Jesse James, Al Capone and John Gotti. Nor is it the blatantly biased “journalism” that seems to have become more popular today. I truly believe that something deeper is happening.

It is my firm belief that complex problems always have complex origins. Many would point their fingers at one scapegoat for the blurring of the lines between fact and opinion in today’s world. The left would blame Rush Limbaugh and Fox News for the problem. The right blames a biased mainstream media who openly champions one political philosophy over others. This is a simplistic view. In my opinion, various trends and events have formed a kind of nexus that culminated in the meeting of Mr. Guzman and Mr. Penn, forever to be crystallized in print.

One aspect concerns the blurring of the line that separates hard news pages from the editorial pages. We’ve always had yellow journalism in our country. William Randolph Hearst exemplified it in the early 20th century. Though he was a media magnate, many of his contemporaries shunned Hearst and condemned his work for the sensationalistic tripe that it was. In the 20th century, many hard news reporters seemed to be able to maintain a reasonable level of objectivity, even when the truth of a story was evident. Legendary investigative reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame are the best examples. Walter Cronkite was biased against the Vietnam War, but did a respectable job of keeping his opinions neutral until the tide of public sentiment turned against the war.

The face of journalism began to slowly shift over time. The Watergate scandal and the election of Ronald Reagan as president brought out a new breed of journalists who were more open in their criticisms. That was followed by the birth of the cable news phenomenon, with CNN blazing a trail toward 24/7 news coverage. In the ‘90’s, Republicans who rightly felt that they weren’t getting a fair shake in the media rejoiced at the creation of Fox News, a network billed as the alternative to CNN. The left shook it’s collective head and waited for the demise of Fox News, but throughout the late ‘90’s and the first decade of the following millennium, it became the ratings king in the world of cable news. Seeing their success, the left tried to do Fox News one better by creating MSNBC, a channel even more left of the mainstream CBS, NBC, ABC and CNN.

The first time that I really sat up and took notice of blatant mainstream advocate journalism occurred during the presidential election of 2004. Does anyone remember, Memogate?

Dan Rather and his 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes aired a story claiming that they had obtained memos that proved that George W. Bush’s service in the Air National Guard in 1972 and 1973 was less than honorable. They further claimed that members of the Guard scrubbed the documents to cover up Bush’s failure to meet all of his service obligations.

Within minutes of the airing of the story, the conservative blogosphere went crazy. Soon, it had become apparent that the documents were forgeries and had been provided by a source who was a well-known anti-Bush partisan. After a two-week investigation fueled by mounting pressure from the mainstream press, CBS retracted the story and apologized for airing it. Mary Mapes was subsequently fired and Dan Rather relinquished the anchor’s chair of the CBS Evening News and quietly faded from the public eye. He later sued CBS, but the lawsuit was dismissed in 2009.

The money shot of this story came from Mary Mapes a year after the controversy hit. In an interview with ABC’s Brian Ross, he asked her if she thought the responsibility shouldn’t rest with the reporter to prove the authenticity of the documents before going to air. She replied, “I don’t think that’s the standard.” Her notion echoes Mark Twain who said, “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.” Twain’s remark was delivered with sardonic irony, but Mary Mapes takes it literally.

11 years after the debacle, the movie, “Truth: hit theaters, with Robert Redford starring as Dan Rather and Kate Blanchett as Mapes. The movie painted Rather and Mapes as sympathetic heroes who were chasing a true story, while CBS was depicted as the villain who was covering up for their corporate owners. CBS condemned the movie as, “rewriting history,” and few people went to see it, but that didn’t stop dozens of journalists from fawning over the real Rather and Mapes in a pre-screening press conference.

Along with the rise of the 24/7 news cycle came the rise of the internet, where anyone who operates a blog or chat forum (formerly known as a bulletin board), could call him or herself a journalist. The black-and-white print of newspapers started to become obsolete in favor of instantaneous electronic transmissions that could be posted in mere seconds. In order to keep up with the instant gratification of readers, all of the major newspapers began to shift to digital content in hopes of keeping their corporate owners in the black, all the while competing with original websites such as Slate.com and The Daily Caller.

Sidebar: The irony isn’t lost on me that it was a bunch of bloggers who forced Memogate into the public eye, while the mainstream media chose to ignore it until it became the 500-pound elephant in the room. These people are admittedly partisan. It’s sad that not one hard-news journalist ran with the ball before it became popular to do so.

Finally, celebrity culture has taken a major upswing in the 21st century. Social media plays a pivotal role. Most people have a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn or Snapchat account. Within mere seconds, you can show that cute photo of your kid making a mashed potato sculpture to all of your friends and family. If he’s cute enough, you will go viral, getting thousands of hits on Youtube. Suddenly, you’re a “journalist” who might just get to interview Barack Obama, or pose a planted question at a presidential debate.

Combine this with the sad trend of so-called, “Reality television.” It started innocently enough in the late ‘90’s with soft fare like Cops and Who Wants to be a Millionaire, but with the dawn of the millennium, we amped it up from American Idol and The Amazing Race to Survivor, Fear Factor, The Apprentice, Real World and Duck Dynasty. These shows may have different styles, but the common thread involves supposedly ordinary people being plucked from obscurity and slowly emerging into the spotlight of fame, all while the cameras roll.

And then, there’s Rolling Stone.

Rolling Stone was never intended to be a hard news publication on par with USA Today, but they try to remain an avant-garde force with the younger generation. To that end, they love to mix socio/politics with their pop culture. They’ve never been known for their journalistic integrity or impartiality. Remember the August, 2013 cover that featured a flattering photo of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (aka, The Boston Marathon Bomber)? The issue was banned by many stores, including Wal-Mart, over the cover. But they hit a new low the following year when they published a now-infamous story about an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia. The story was proven to be fabricated and Rolling Stone was forced to issue a retraction. The author, Sabrina Erdely, is clearly a fan of Mary Mapes’ style of “journalism.” It’s also noteworthy that Erdely is still employed at Rolling Stone. At least CBS had the decency to fire Mapes.

No, it’s not a bit surprising that Rolling Stone would collaborate with Sean Penn to concoct a piece glorifying a murderous drug lord like El Chapo. It’s not even surprising that the media’s reaction to the interview was so tepid. It’s not even surprising that Rolling Stone agreed to give El Chapo preapproval for the article before it ran. Founder Jann Wenner’s’s quote sums up the situation from Rolling Stone’s perspective: “We have let people in the past approve their quotes for interviews.” How many of those people are drug lords who kill reporters who write unflattering articles about them and popularized the beheading of their enemies as a means of warfare?

The nice thing about fictional characters like Tony Soprano is that, once you turn off your television, they flicker out of existence. They are born from the imaginations of a group of people sitting around a conference table in a writers’ room somewhere. Sean Penn thrives in a world of fiction, both in his personal and professional life. El Chapo’s victims live and die in a stark reality. Those who are no longer here to speak for themselves passed with a death scream upon their lips. Those who are left behind live as slaves to addiction with poison in their blood. As fiction and reality become more blurred in our modern age of the information super highway, that cold, brutal fact never changes.

Suicide Is Painless

I was saddened to hear of the passing of Wayne Rogers on the final day of 2015. He died at the ripe old age of 82. One or two readers might know him from his many years as a contributor on the Fox Business Network, but the vast majority of you will remember him as Trapper John McIntyre, MD from the long-running TV dramedy, M*A*S*H.

Rogers is the fourth regular cast member from the TV series to have passed away. He was preceded by McLean Stevenson (Colonel Henry Blake) in 1996, Larry Linville (Frank Burns) in 2000 and Harry Morgan (Colonel Potter) in 2011.

For those of you under 35, here’s a brief synopsis of the series, which ran from 1972 through 1983 on CBS.

It takes place during the Korean conflict, though it is really a thinly-veiled commentary on the more-recent and unpopular Vietnam War. A group of doctors, most of whom are drafted, are serving in a mobile medical facility near the front lines. The show chronicles their lives as they receive one batch of wounded soldiers after another during the fighting. In order to calm their frazzled civilian nerves, the doctors go a little nuts in their off hours, particularly the lead protagonist, Benjamin Franklin ‘Hawkeye’ Pierce, played by Alan Alda in the TV version. Pierce is a gifted surgeon, but he’s also a skirt-chasing, booze-swilling cuckoo bird who loses his marbles more than once over the course of the 11 seasons.

Pierce never met a nurse he didn’t bed, a general whom he didn’t defy, a martini that he didn’t vanquish and a scalpel that he didn’t make sing. His talent was the only reason why he didn’t end up on permanent KP duty over some of his antics. I’m not kidding. Hawkeye had a libido that made Bill Clinton’s look like a kitchen match next to a flamethrower by comparison. The difference was that Bill’s excuse was Hillary, while Hawkeye’s excuse was the hard-to-argue fact that war is hell. I understand. I do battle with my coworkers every day and I get crazy by day and hornie by night.

Hawkeye was also validated by the fact that his compatriots were all either as crazy as he, incompetent or too in awe of him to care. They included his sidekick, the afore-mentioned Trapper John, as well as a bumbling company commander, a walking set of military stereotypes, a sexually frustrated female major, a naive company clerk, a chaplain who never mentioned God and a cross-dressing corporal bucking for a psycho discharge.

The head writer for the first four seasons was Larry Gelbart. In an interview, he once claimed that M*A*S*H was not anti-military, but rather, anti-war. I think this is a distinction without a difference, but more to the point, Gelbart is being disingenuous. There are numerous examples of the show poking fun at the command structure and the actions of the military. Exhibit A was Frank Burns, a character who was written as a collection of negative military clichés and who served no other purpose than to be a weekly antagonist to Hawkeye and Trapper. In fact, the only part of the military the writers treated with respect was the infantry soldiers who were wounded and arrived in the operating room at the 4077. This was characterized by the absence of the standard television sitcom laugh track during scenes in the operating room.

On the surface, you wouldn’t think that I would enjoy a show like M*A*S*H. I find the anti-war mentality of the left to be willfully ignorant of world history and human nature. As a kid, it never came up on my radar (no pun intended.) I didn’t do sitcoms. I stumbled across it in college only because it came on just before Star Trek: The Next Generation every weeknight on KPTM Fox 42. I sat down one night and watched an episode called, “Life Time,” in which the doctors only have 20 minutes to save the life of a boy who will die if he doesn’t get the aorta of another patient who is barely hanging on. It was the constant ticking of the alarm clock used to heighten dramatic tension that really got me. It was unintentional foreshadowing of the spy series, 24.

From that moment, I was hooked. Part of the reason was due to the fact that I flirted with liberalism in college. Yes, you read that right. I was nearly seduced by the dark side of the force, if you’ll pardon my metaphor mixing here. I wasn’t as sensitive to Hollywood’s liberal bias as I became in subsequent years. But even after I returned to my conservative roots post college, I still held a soft spot for Hawkeye and company. Once I pealed away the preachy, anti-war rhetoric, I could relate to the idea of an on-edge guy who was trapped in an extreme situation that he despised. If you’ve ever been to a residential school for the blind, you can relate to the 4077. Moreover, I found the humor of the Gelbart era to be genuinely clever and witty, unlike many other sitcoms of the time; Three’s Company, anyone?

In late 1998, I blundered into a massive black depression. Coincidentally, the F-X cable network acquired the rights to M*A*S*H and began running it eight times a day. I would wake up, eat hamburger helper for breakfast while watching M*A*S*H, get dressed, go work my five-hour shift at Gallup, come home, strip naked, crawl under a blanket and watch more M*A*S*H. I think I devoured the entire series in about three months. This is what I learned.

The first three seasons are faithful to the original motion picture, which is itself based on the novel written by Richard Hooker. Though there are dramatic underpinnings, the tone is that of a black comedy. This changes when Colonel Blake is killed off in the third season finale, “Abysinia, Henry.”

In the fourth season, Hawkeye’s partner in crime Trapper John goes home off screen and is replaced by the more straight-laced B. J. Hunnicut. Colonel Blake is replaced by Colonel Sherman Potter, who is *gasp* regular Army, but who enables Hawkeye’s antics because he recognizes his surgical skills. The show still leans toward comedy, though more dramatic stories are introduced. The most notable of these is, “The Interview,” in which the members of the 4077 are interviewed by a news crew about their war experiences.

At the end of the fifth season, Hotlips gets married and is henceforth known as Margaret, causing Frank Burns to go crazy and to be sent home. He is replaced by the more surgically adept and pompous Charles Emerson Winchester, who serves as a more intelligent foil for Hawkeye. The series continues to angle more toward overt drama. Hawkeye’s chronic drinking is addressed in the episode, “Fallen Idol,” in which Radar is injured during R&R and Hawkeye is too drunk to operate on him.

At the beginning of the eight season, Radar is sent home on a medical hardship discharge. Klinger gets out of his dress and replaces Radar as company clerk. B. J. gets depressed and beats up Hawkeye and Potter amps up his cowboy clichés to an annoying level. For it’s final four seasons, the show becomes a much more overt drama. The laugh track disappears, as do the musical stings that transition between scenes. The jokes become stale, paling in comparison to the days of Trapper and Blake and Hawkeye’s still is replaced by a weekly soapbox.

Honestly, the entire unit probably should’ve been sent home along with Radar. By this time, it was fashionable for television series of the ‘70’s to dispense a heavy dose of moralizing along with their storytelling. This is best illustrated by shows such as All in the Family, Lou Grant, Quincy, M.E. and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. M*A*S*H was no exception. In the wake of Larry Gelbart’s departure, Alan Alda became an executive producer. You can always look for a show to jump the shark when a lead actor tries to take over creative control. Carroll O’Connor is exhibit A for this phenomenon. It didn’t matter that the stories imposed the morality of the 1970’s into a 1950’s setting. War is hell, damnit! What else matters?

To that end, Margaret goes into full feminist mode, demonstrating time and again that, by God, she doesn’t need a man. B. J. cheats on his wife, but has the decency to feel guilty about it. Winchester softens up his snobbish, blue blooded conservative views. But most important of all, Hawkeye learns to respect women by not tapping every nurse’s ass that he comes across. Oh God, the humanity of it all!

The series wrapped up in February of 1983 with a two-and-a-half hour finale entitled, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.” Hawkeye chokes a chicken that’s not really a chicken. B. J. does the ultimate boomerang act. Margaret is still shrill and still in the Army. Father Mulcahy goes deaf. Klinger gets married and stays in Korea. Colonel Potter rides off on his horse. Winchester rides out on a garbage truck and everyone has a good cry before flooding the New York City sewer systems with a massive toilet flush after the final credits. Goodbye, farewell and pass the Charmin.

After these many years, I still like to pull out the DVD’s of M*A*S*H and watch them on occasion. When I first got turned on to the show, I didn’t care for the early episodes. Now, I prefer the antics of Hawkeye, Trapper and Colonel Blake when the show didn’t take itself so seriously and the social commentary was far more subtle. I think that Hawkeye, the gifted surgeon, consummate womanizer and raging alcoholic was probably a more accurate depiction of a civilian trapped in a war setting than was the kinder, gentler, more preachy Hawkeye of the later seasons.

So, R.I.P, Wayne Rogers. Say hi to Pernell Roberts if you see him. If anyone gets that reference without using Google, I’ll send you a gallon of martinis, fresh from my homemade still right here in the control room. Don’t cheat or the ghost of Harry Morgan will gitchu!

My Dog

The following entry is the only surviving offering from the old Blurty blog. It was written on February 1, 2009. It is dedicated to family pets everywhere. They make us more human.

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Sunday, February 1, 2009

9:39PM

My Dog

I come from a family of animal lovers. It is no surprise that we had an abundance of household pets during my childhood. We had everything from hunting dogs to fish to gerbils to horses. When I was a kid, I was very fond of a grey cat we had named Tequila. Some nights, particularly during the winter months, she would come up on to my bed and lie with me as I went to sleep. She purred and licked my hand with her rough tongue. Eventually, she would jump off the bed and I would drift off to sleep.

My father always insisted on a big hunting dog, but my mother wanted a dog of her own. She finally insisted on a small white mix-breed poodle and named her Dolly. Dad called her, “the little white rat.” He didn’t have much use for an animal that couldn’t carry a dead bird in it’s mouth. I was also very partial to Dolly and Dolly liked me a lot. She would often come jump on my bed at night, but wouldn’t stay very long. Sometimes she would lie on my lap and nudge my hand if she wanted me to pet her. But Dolly was my mom’s dog and if Mom was in the room, Dolly followed her around like a small, white shadow. Mom had to put her to sleep in 1989 because she was losing control of her bodily functions and was always making messes in the house. I was sad, but my grief didn’t last too long.

My younger brother Nate was the biggest animal lover of the three of us. He had everything from hamsters to boring fish in a tank to pet rats to a horse. I never thought he’d get the horse, but Dad gave in one year and imported a horse named Conrad from a ranch out in western Nebraska. Nate had a pet rabbit whom he loved, but who met an untimely end in the jaws of Dad’s chocolate lab, Waylon.

Waylon was the third chocolate lab I remember Dad owning. The first was Benjy, but Benjy was around when I was very young and I only have vague recollections of him towering over me as I tried to feed him cookies from an empty margarine container. The next dog was Samson, who we owned when I was in the second grade. Samson wasn’t with us for long. When he was still a puppy, Dad took him to exercise outside of town one day. Dad got in his pick-up to move it and Samson decided to run along side the truck. Dad lost sight of him for only a second, then felt the truck run over something. He realized too late that Samson had run under one of the pick-up wheels. Samson was badly injured and Dad knew that he was a goner, so he got his pistol from the truck and put him down.

Jared was angry with Dad for not taking Samson to a vet, but Dad knew animals and knew the vet could do nothing for Samson. I didn’t learn about Samson’s death for three days. No one bothered to tell me. I learned about it from an off-hand remark by a babysitter. I cried in my pillow that night, but the tears didn’t last. Samson had only been with us for a short time and he was certainly Dad’s dog.

Waylon came to us in the fifth grade. We got off to a bad start because Waylon didn’t understand that I was a blind kid who couldn’t tell where he was. In his puppy days, he would often lay somewhere and wouldn’t notice me coming until I stepped on him. I wouldn’t have a clue that anything was wrong till I heard a squeal and felt something under my foot. Luckily, I never injured Waylon when I stepped on him, but he never really liked me because of the accidents, so we were never close. Waylon wasn’t really impressed the night I took his tail and put it in the end of the vacuum cleaner, hose then turned it on. It was the only time I heard him give off an angry growl. He would sometimes get very friendly with me, but that usually coincided with the moments in which I had food in my hand. He was Dad’s dog for sure, but I think he also liked Jared a lot.

Waylon was very laid back in his temperament and only had one bad habit. When he was put outside, he’d stand at the door and whine and wale until someone let him in. Mom and Dad tried everything from harsh scolding to a rolled-up newspaper to cold water. Nothing worked. One day I found a strange collar around Waylon’s neck. It had a battery device of some kind on it. I asked Dad what it was and he told me it was a shock collar. I was not happy. Dad promised that it would only deliver very mild shocks to Waylon if he barked too loud. Dad is a very gentle-hearted guy and I know he would never be cruel to his dog. Waylon was more spoiled than most dogs had a right to be. He just wanted to make Waylon quit barking when he was put outside. Still, I hated the idea of the shock collar. One day, for some unknown reason, Waylon’s shock collar disappeared. Dad suspected me of stealing it. I’m not sure why. Dad never bought another collar like that. He probably knew it would be pointless as the damn thing would just disappear again. He and Mom just tolerated the barking until Waylon passed away in 1999.

In 1994, Dad took Waylon to hook up with a bitch so he could get her knocked up. I was told later that Waylon was the proud father of 12 tiny lab puppies. Waylon was kind of a deadbeat and didn’t give his bitch much emotional or financial support. This may have been why Dad brought home another chocolate lab puppy in the late summer of 1995. Waylon had no choice but to acknowledge his son when he was forced to share the back yard with him. Mom and Dad named him Yogi.

When I came home in August of ’95, I went out on the back patio to meet Yogi. Yogi ran up to me, jumped up on my chest and started licking my face. Dad told me to make him get down, but I didn’t care. I let Yogi love me up and I scratched and petted him all over. Then I went over and sat down on the back deck steps. I expected that Yogi would run off and play. To my surprise, he came over to me and jumped up on me again. I knew right then that this dog was something special to me.

The summer of ’95 had been a difficult time for me. The Heidi affair had come to its disastrous end and I went through those hot months swinging wildly from one volatile emotion to another. The only time I could feel some semblance of inner peace was when I would go over and hang with Shane and the ’95 WAGES kids. They were a rowdy bunch, but they gave me something to focus on other than my misery. But the WAGES group eventually went home and I entered September of that year feeling depressed, angry, guilty and aimless. I went home one weekend to visit my parents and headed outside to say hit o Yogi and Waylon shortly after I dropped my bags in my room. Yogi ran up to me and gave me his customary slobbery greeting. I hugged him and scratched his ears, then went to sit in a lawn chair. Yogi came over and started head-butting my hand and arm with his cold nose. I pet and scratched him some more, then Dad came out on the patio to light up the grill. Yogi ran over to him and I prepared to turn on my Walkman so I could read more of my book. Not two minutes went by before I felt Yogi’s cold nose again on my arm. I started scratching him and he kept licking my hand. Any time I stopped petting him, he’d go back to nudging me with his nose again till I gave him some more attention. Dad was still out there firing up the grill, but Yogi stayed by my side. When Dad went back into the house, Yogi laid his head in my lap for a while and I just pet him non-stop. For the first time in three months, I’d felt an inner peace with myself that had not been there. I think I’m only projecting, but it almost seemed as if Yogi knew I needed a kind of unconditional love that only a dog can give.

Anyone who knows me understands why the break-up with Heidi hurt me so deeply. Anyone who knows can understand why a lot of guilt went with the parting. Yogi reminded me that animals can love humans no matter what sin they have committed. It was a lesson I never forgot and I was always grateful to Yogi for imparting it to me. But more than that, Yogi came back to me and loved me up even though Dad was nearby. He did this many times after that. He was certainly Dad’s dog for sure, but for the first time, it felt as if he was my dog too. I came to find out later that Mom loved him deeply as well. For the first time in my life, it felt as if we had a real family dog that belonged to everyone, including me.

Yogi perfected a technique that Waylon had started to learn. Somehow, Yogi figured out early that I couldn’t see where he was, so whenever I came into the family room and he was lying on the floor, he would thump his tail so I could locate him. He did not pick up his dad’s habit of constantly barking and waling when he was put outside. He would bark now and then to get our attention, letting us know that he wanted to come in, but it wasn’t a constant noise. His temperament was more hyper than Waylon’s. He was the stereotypical Labrador, always demonstrating enthusiastic glee whenever he was happy. Mom and Dad made him stay outside in the garage or back yard at the old house, but once they moved across town into the new place, they began letting him sleep on a pillow in their bedroom. All three of us boys had moved out and the grandkids only came home on occasion. I think they were so used to other family members sleeping under the same roof that Yogi was a good substitute.

Over the next decade, I’d come home for various reasons and Yogi would often run through the kitchen and attack me with his nose until I gave him a proper hello. It didn’t matter if my hands were full or not. He wouldn’t leave me alone until I paid him some attention. I would be sitting on the couch watching TV and his cold nose would eventually bump my arm, asking for some affection. Yet, he somehow surpassed his dad in the manners department. I don’t remember him often sitting at the table and begging for scraps of food. Maybe that’s why he always got extra steak, ham or chicken from the leftovers. Mom hated it when Yogi got up on the furniture. He learned to mind her and stay on the floor, but sometimes I would secretly sneak him on to my bed when no one was around. Mom found out, of course. Dark dog hair is pretty hard to hide, but I didn’t care.

One Thanksgiving, I brought Alicia home and we hid out in the basement. We were lying there listening to the radio when we heard the telltale “click, click, click” of Yogi’s toenails on the wooden stairs. He came bounding into the room and over to the bed, shoving his head at us demanding attention. I rolled to the other side of the bed and called him up, allowing him to lie between Alicia and I. We both stroked and petted him for a long while until he jumped off.

The years went on like that. Yogi was as much a part of our family as any human. It seems that pets have a way of creeping into your heart and staying there. Hunter, Josi and Jackson came into the world and they all loved Yogi as much as he loved them. My Grandpa G. also took a liking to Yogi once he moved to our home town to live in a retirement home. He was mostly a serious man, but had a great affinity for animals and always loved Yogi a lot.

I don’t remember exactly when I first noticed the small lumps on Yogi’s body. I think it may have been sometime in early 2007. I was lying on the floor petting him one day and found a lump on his chest. I asked Dad what it was. Dad told me that Yogi had some tumors, both inside him and on his body. They had taken him for two operations, but the vet told him that the tumors would multiply too quickly. Better to let him go when the time came. They estimated that he had only about a year left. Yet, a year later, Yogi was still feisty as ever. The tumors were still there, but there were no signs of him getting sick. He grew tired more easily, but he was about 13 years old at that point and it was to be expected. Mom told me his dark whiskers and the hair around his muzzle had turned white. His coat was still dark, but was lighter than it had been in his younger days.

Even though Yogi seemed to be relatively healthy, I kept waiting for a phone call or Email that broke the bad news that the tumors had gotten the better of Yogi. But the message never came. I went home this past Thanksgiving and Christmas and spent a lot of time with Yogi. I didn’t know how many more times I would see him. He had developed a bad habit of frequently farting and the smell was hideous, but none of us ever kicked him out into the garage. Mom would just grab the matches, strike a few and hope that would clear the air. I think we all knew that we didn’t have a lot of time left.

Several weeks ago, I went home for my grandpa’s funeral. As usual, Yogi was there to greet me and hang out as I watched TV and talked to Mom and Dad. He seemed more attentive than was normal. Whenever I got up and moved around, his tail would thump more rapidly than usual and he would often follow me from place to place, waiting for more loving. He hadn’t done that before. It was customary for him to wait until I was stationary before he clamored for attention. Still, I was happy to oblige him and spent extra time with him. I didn’t know anything at the time, but I wonder if dogs can sense when their time is close.

Two weeks and one day after my grandpa’s funeral, I got a text from my brother while I was eating lunch at work. It said simply, “Better call Mom and Dad. Yogi got hit by a car last night and they had to put him to sleep this morning.” I felt an instant wave of sorrow come over me. I wanted to cry right there on the spot, but I fought it down and spent the rest of the day feeling numb. I figured the grief would hit me when I went to bed that night, but I drifted off as usual. The next day, I continued to feel detached all day. When I got home that night, the following Email was waiting for me from Mom:

Guys: Last night about 9 Dr. Mason hit Yogi in the middle of the street. Nate and your Dad took him to the Vet on call @ Riverside. There he was in “Comfort Care” all night, (which means that gave him a shot to keep him comfortable) and would be evaluated this morning. Because of Trauma to his head he wasn’t able to move a front or back leg ~~therefore, we had to send him on his ”way”. So……. needless to say last night and this morning have been a rough go for us. Your Dad is taking this event hard as Yogi was the best dog WE had in the last 40 years. January continues to be an emotional month. Maybe my Dad needed his company. That’s how I have to think, you know !! Love your way, Mom~o

Dr. Mason is a neighbor who lived nearby. My reply was short and to the point: Gonna kick the shit out of that prick doctor next time I’m home. Mom answered my message about 20 minutes later:

Well…….. it was going to be “sooner” or “later” with the Yogi dog. It’s just that timing was hard and your poor Dad had to witness the trauma of it all. Life is Life…. and Yogi has gone on to take care of my Dad. …. and it’s ”OK”. You know how much my Dad loved that old chocolate dog, too. It’s crazy how people get so attached to their animals…. because they are so UNCONDITIONAL and trust us to honor and take care of their well being. Yogi was a very loved and adored dog in this household. I am crushed that he would meet his end in a brutal way, but he was pushing it the last year…. sick in the night, going on long walkabouts and not minding his orders to come home. The last days of his life Yogi was able to go very free about the neighborhood and mark his territory. So.. in that respect I think all is well with his great soul, disposition, and forever I will be happy that your Dad and I finally had a dog that we both loved equally. Yogi was a dream dog, a loyal and faithful joy to your Dad and me. He was my bodyguard when your dad was gone for days, and he had the most loving and gentle eyes. Labradors are a gift to humans. Thank goodness I softened your dad along the way and convinced him that great water dogs can still be “house pets”. It was Yogi’s good fortune that I loved him……. spoiled dog. He was worth it. Love you, Ryan O and Peace Be With You. MOM ~O

I waited for the tears to come, but still they would not. I crawled into bed and fell off to sleep. Sometime in the early morning, I dreamt that I was standing in the street in front of the house waiting for Yogi to come back from a romp. A car came along and hit him. I heard his scream as the car went right on past. I ran over to him, knelt down and felt his blood-soaked coat. I stroked his head and he turned his nose into my palm, then gently licked my hand one more time before his head went limp. It is one of the most vivid dreams I’ve ever had. I woke up and cried for a half-hour straight. Then I had to force myself to rise, get into the shower and head off to work.

As it is with the passing of my grandparents, going home will never be the same again. I won’t come through the front door anymore to the sound of those quick clicking toenails on the tile. I won’t get to feel that insistent cold nose on my arm, or Yogi’s tongue kissing my hands. But Yogi was loved and his memory and spirit will live on in my heart and memory. He was part of our family and he will always hold a special place in my heart for the love he gave me when I needed it most. Unlike my grandparents, I never got to give Yogi a proper funeral. This is the only memorial I can give him and I hope it serves. I have no idea what becomes of a dog’s spirit when it passes from this world, but I hope he knows how much I love him and will miss his company.

Several years ago, I wrote a scathing letter about the practices of guide dog use by the blind in the U.S. Naturally, this angered hundreds of guide dog users who felt compelled to write me and tell me of their displeasure. The most common charge I faced was, “Boy, you really must hate dogs.” Most of the charges they fired at me were ludicrous, but none more so than this. I believe that dogs, as well as other domesticated animals, are a symbol of worldly innocence and love. They serve as a reflection of those emotions that they feel from their owners. They stand as a responsibility for us when we take them in as pets, requiring our constant care and attention when they are sick and when they are vital. They return this joyous burden by giving us unconditional love and happiness in all seasons. There is no greater reward that one could ask for than that. Dogs are harder to house when you are a bachelor living in an apartment, but I know that, if I ever own a home, the first thing I’ll bring into it is a dark Labrador. He won’t be Yogi. I’m sure every dog is different. He will be the first animal who is solely in my care, but thanks to Yogi, my future companion will be the second animal whom I refer to as, “My dog.”

Goodbye, Yogi. Thank you for the 13 years you gave me and our family. I love you and miss you.

Current mood: sad

The Best Listener

This blog is dedicated to my pal Art; the ultimate listener.

This shiny new blog is a sequel. The old one lasted for about 12 years before it disappeared. One of my favorite entries from that blog was titled, “The Top 10 Lies People Tell.” Lie number two was, “I don’t judge.”

I call bullshit. Everyone judges. As human beings, we are wired to judge. If we truly didn’t judge each other, our world would be a sea of anarchy. Judging one another isn’t the point; it’s what we do with those judgments that counts.

Art judges me whenever I talk to him. That’s fine. That’s why I lean on him. I need his judgments. But Art is one of the most gentle souls I’ve ever encountered. Thus, his judgments are informed by his gentleness. That doesn’t mean that he’s a pushover. It only means that he chooses to use his kindness as a dominant color in the lens of his life experience.

The url of this webpage belies the true nature of the content. Yes, I will write about politics here. Politics is important to me. But I hope to discuss many more things that make up the human experience; relationships, sex, entertainment, philosophy, music and whatever else winds my clock. I hope you like what you read here. If you do, I hope you will share it.

Love,

Ryan O – The Conservative Blind Guy

P.S.: Art may look like a big, fuzzy guy, but he doubles as the bouncer. That wasn’t a paper airplane that just whizzed past your head. It was Jack Squat being ejected. Don’t follow his example. Stay a while. And remember…the fine print is in braille.