As we advance in years reality sets in and we conclude most things are not as they originally seemed. Movie stars appear to have a glamorous existence until we learn many of their lives were filled with insecurity, infidelity, substance abuse, alienation, broken relationships, occasional violence, depression, and often, sad lonely deaths.
For a long time I wanted to be a stand-up comedian. I performed mostly in front of friendly audiences known to me who began laughing as I walked on stage. I also performed with an associate at The Comedy Store and The Improv in the ‘80s.
At those professional venues I learned the real comedy business is tough. Comedy is a brutal, sometimes backstabbing undertaking. Many who appear to be successful are sad insecure people prone to excess. Their personal relationships are in shambles. The names of iconic greats such as John Belushi, Chris Farley, and Richard Pryor are among those who self-destructed while at the top of their game.
As a youth my dream was to be a newspaper beat writer covering a major league baseball team. Life couldn’t possibly get any better than traveling with a ball club, seeing every game, watching batting practice, and writing about my heroes.
Except they weren’t heroes. Many were, and are, a bunch of ignorant, self-absorbed jerks that just happen to be able to hit or throw a curveball. I recently read an excellent book about my hero Mickey Mantle that broke my heart. Mick’s family even authorized it because it was the truth. The Mick did not look good in the book.
A friend of mine is a successful, highly respected, but virtually anonymous-to-the public sports agent. He said the ballplayers’ mantra is not “what have you done for me lately?” but rather, “What are you doing for me right now?”— 2 a.m. whining phone calls are often the norm.
Years ago, courtesy of a pirated press pass (don’t ask), I was in the Padres locker room at Dodger Stadium when a player blew up at a U-T sports writer who asked a relatively harmless question the player didn’t like. Other players had to physically restrain him. In defense of ballplayers, they get asked some pretty stupid questions by writers trying to get a fresh angle.
I worked on a moving van and in an automobile factory, but the best job I’ve ever had is being a police officer.
As a cop you are often under the microscope and on the hot seat. Every outsider is an expert on how you should do your job even though they’ve never done it. The public learned how to be a police officer from television. Real police know more about things and people than they want to know, or that anyone should know.
Sometimes you see things that make you sick and things that no one should have to see. But you see them anyway because it’s your job.
Years ago, while working child abuse, I served as a chaperone/aide at the one-week school safety patrol camp on Palomar Mountain. The duty was a break from my regular job, but we put in 16-hour days.
During orientation the first day, my eyes locked with those of a young safety patrol girl. I had interviewed her during the past year and guided her through a traumatic court process. I investigated and did my part to convict and imprison a family member who had been molesting her.
Here was an 11-year old girl trying to have a normal camp experience, yet carrying psychological baggage and mental scars. She nodded at me with a weak smile. She never indicated she wanted more contact so we didn’t interact during that week.
More often than not as a cop, you are doing things that benefit mankind and you have fun doing them. I’d take that over being a famous actor, stand-up comedian, sports writer, or anything.
Basinski was a police officer for 35 years. He lives in Chula Vista.