Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My mom might be the worst forensic investigator ever.

My mom is the prime candidate from whom I inherited my strong stomach and possibly unhealthy interest in things of a macabre nature. During my youth, she and I spent more than a few Friday nights eating dinner in front of the TV watching VHS copies of Faces of Death, which could only be rented at the local video store with a slightly unconventional “back room.” As a mother daughter team, we occasionally perused the photos displayed on, studying various degrees of carnage with less trepidation than morbid fascination. In my teenage years, when I opted for a combined gothic and punk rock style, my mother handled my stylistic deviation with grace and once even applied pink streaks to her hair to show solidarity.

In adulthood, I’ve opted to use my powers of the gruesome persuasion for good instead of evil; I studied forensics in college and am now a paramedic, as opposed to a serial killer. I think serial killing would be far too much manual labor, plus it would be impossible to have to keep it all a secret. I know from my studies and a brief obsession with forensic television shows and books that it is shockingly difficult to completely dispose of a body and forensic evidence, so I’d likely get caught, and you probably can’t check out gross stuff online with your mom when you’re on death row. Furthermore, I’d be pretty pissed off if I had a biohazard on my Chuck Taylors to deal with. Most importantly, while my mom and I may have bizarre interests in the obscene, neither one of us have the moral ambiguity to do horrible things.

A few years ago, the sudden and mysterious disappearance of a local young man named Kyle Fleischmann who appeared to have a bright future ahead of him made national headlines. It was a tragedy that has left many people with a plethora of unanswered questions and inspired a brief frenzy of public interest in local crime. Naturally, my mom was no exception.

About a year after Mr. Fleischmann vanished, I received a text message urging me to call my mom immediately. My mom answered my phone call with no salutation and a serious tone, “I FOUND KYLE.” First of all, I’d like to point out it’s a little jacked up that my mom calls him by his first name, as if they’re old buddies, when in fact, they’ve never met. Secondly, I’m no better; I knew exactly what she was talking about because Mr. Fleishmann’s disappearance had been the topic of several of our discussions throughout the year. Thirdly, what the crap? The probability various search parties have missed clues of his disappearance, and yet my mom has happened upon him seems incredibly low.

“I think I’m gonna need you to clarify that a bit, Mom.”

“Seriously, I found Kyle, and he’s not looking too good.” As a person with a confirmed overactive imagination, several scenarios ran through my mind:

Scenario one: My mom has lost her damn mind. She is hallucinating as a result of acute psychosis or psychotropic drugs, although she is well past her years of experimentation. This one ends with my mom locked in a mental institution, and it seems fairly unlikely.

Scenario two: My mom actually happened upon and identified Kyle Fleishmann, and he’s either dead, horribly drug addled, or an amnesiac, none of which would have prompted my mom to send me a text message prior to contacting emergency services. Unless she thinks texting me qualifies as contacting emergency services, and as a result she would possibly still qualify for a vacation in a state sponsored mental ward. This also seems unlikely.

Scenario three: My mom has found something gruesome and her own overactive imagination went into overdrive. This seems plausible, considering she almost shot me point-fucking-blank at 1 am once when I came home from college, thinking I was an intruder with a key despite the fact that I contend that I informed her of my plans in advance. To her credit, she was up all night watching scary movies with my younger cousins, but I still do not believe this is an excuse for almost murdering your only child.

“Can I get you to be a little more specific?”

“Well, I went to my boyfriend’s work off of the BFR, and you know what kind of stuff goes on around the BFR. He had told me there was a bag of something decomposing down the road, so I thought I would be a good citizen and go check it out. I looked in the bag and it stinks and has maggots and everything! Something is definitely dead, and I’m pretty sure it’s Kyle. Do you think I should call the police?”

This only takes me a second to mull over. An adult corpse wouldn’t fit into a standard garbage bag. A killer would have to be a complete moron to dispose of a body in this manner. Lots of people in that area walk around at all hours, so it likely would have been seen. I know for a fact people in the ghetto have a tendency to call 911 for the most mundane of reasons, so something in a state of advanced decay probably has already been dealt with by the authorities. Decay found in urban areas is typically animal remains. My mom has a rather intrepid imagination, and this is probably a whole bowl full of nothing blown out of proportion.

“If you think you should call the police, by all means, do so. I seriously doubt that is necessary, though. Do what you think is right.”


“Then call the police, but use the non emergency line.” Do normal people have these kinds of conversations with their parents? I wouldn’t know what it’s like to hail from normal people, so I can’t comment on how normal parental conversations traverse.

“I don’t want to be the crazy lady who calls the police over some crap.” Calling one’s daughter to report a possible murder is clearly a much saner alternative. “I don’t want to ignore a potential crime scene, either. Can’t you just drive the ambulance over and check it out?”

This actually seems pretty viable until I consider I haven’t managed to convince my partner that I’m not a total weirdo yet. I’m sure seeing me fascinated and hovering over a smelly pile of bones, goo, and maggots is totally going to make him trust me to have his back when we respond unarmed to a location where people routinely shoot each other. We don’t actually have any written rules prohibiting us from investigating dead things, but I’d only been there a year and I didn’t want to be the one responsible for the creation of such documentation. “It doesn’t seem like it’s going to get any more dead by tomorrow, so I’ll drive over on my day off to take a look.”

One look in the bag the next day reveals a set of hip bones far too small and quadrupedal to be human, showing signs of advanced arthritis, indicating old age. The level of decay and insect activity puts it at about 5-7 days post-mortem, without referencing my old textbooks. A quick peek further in the bag to the skull confirms we have a dead, rotting canine corpse with enough advanced age to have lost several teeth in life. While this is obviously not the best or most ethical way to dispose of the remains of a family pet, I’m confident no serious crime has been committed. I tried to let my mom down easy, “Mom, you found an old, dead dog.”

“Well, damn. I really thought it was Kyle.”

About a year and a half goes by without any public knowledge of headway being made in the case. I get another phone call from my mom, and she starts the conversation seriously: “I found Kyle again. For real this time.” She begins to tell me how she found several marijuana plants and some grisly remains in the woods near her work. As an office manager of a company that makes bathtubs, I’m not quite sure why she was perusing the woods around her office, but I let that one slide. She took a picture of the remains, part of a lumbar vertebral column and part of a pelvis, on her phone and sent it to me.

Photo courtesy of Mom.

I responded via text message: Momma, I think that’s a deer that’s been dead for quite a while.

She immediately calls me with an exasperated and incredulous tone, “But how do you know it’s a deer and not Kyle from a phone picture? There wasn’t even a head!”

“I studied bones in college. Surely you remember me leaving home after high school and winding up with a science degree. I don’t need high resolution when it’s that blatant. At the very least, it’s definitely not human.” I begin to tell her how the hip bones are completely inappropriate for a human, but she is no longer interested. I offer to come look at the remains, but she’s apathetic. She doesn’t even suggest I bring the ambulance with lights and sirens blaring to investigate.

“FINE! It wasn’t Kyle this time, but I’m gonna find that guy.” The police force and citizens can rest assured; my mom is on the case!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

My neighbor thinks I'm crazy

I have a neighbor that thinks I'm crazy, due to two incidents in which he may have viewed my actions completely out of context and the fact that I come from a long line of women endowed with an element of ridiculousness.

Incident #1: I'm sitting on the porch of my apartment at 1 AM reading a book and enjoying an adult beverage, when I see out of the corner of my eye an unidentified shiny object moving slowly near the next alcove over. I try to ignore the object, telling myself it is of no consequence to me, but as a person with a confirmed overactive imagination, I begin the inevitable process of envisioning the myriad of things this object could be. I imagine scenarios in which it is an alien, a robot, and an animal in distress, among other things. I take my dog out, so I can get a better look from afar, and my sweet puppy sees the unidentified object and barks at it. Completely discarding the fact my dog barks at empty boxes and bags, I took this as a sign that I absolutely must investigate further. After all, it is shiny and I'm pretty much always attracted to and distracted by shiny things. What if this object presents a hazard to myself and those around, and I am the lone person who can prevent calamity? One can simply not sit idly by during a situation as daunting as this, so I conclude action must be taken.

As a paramedic, I know safety is imperative, so I opt to take the proper precautions. To my lovely ensemble of my red terrycloth bathrobe and messy hair, I add combat boots and my headlight (I know I look like a ridiculous miner with a bright light strapped to my forehead, but I don't care. That shit is useful, and no one can convince me otherwise. I acquired this headlight after making fun of my mom for wearing hers, then discovering the joys of hands free light sources. I'm well on my way to starting a headlight revolution.). I begin my stake out by approaching the alcove from the front of the building and skulking my way to the back toward the object in question.

A neighbor, obviously immune to my stealthy approach, opens his door and gives me a look that can only be interpreted as a combination of fear and incredulousness. This is a look I have come to call the "I better not get too close to my crazy neighbor" look. I make a poor attempt in a hushed voice enlighten my neighbor to the situation at hand, as I realize the more I tell him while decked out in my bathrobe, combat boots, and headlight, only serves to make me appear mentally unstable. He slowly shuts the door to his apartment, watching me with a dubious look throughout. None of the heroic scenarios I'd imagined included any question of my sanity, but I discard the brief encounter and continue my investigation.

Once I approach the object, I discover a largely deflated and dying green helium balloon low to the ground and blowing gently in the wind. Crisis averted, I retreat to my apartment with a touch of chagrin, laughing at myself.

Incident #2: A few weeks later, following an evening out with friends, I come home to settle into my usual spot on my porch at 1 AM, book in hand. I look to the right of my favorite antigravity chair and see what appears to be a baby snake right beside me. It is so small, I have to get a closer look to make sure it isn't a worm. I grew up in a rural enough area to know the difference between poisonous and non-poisonous snakes, and this appears to be a pretty generic black snake. Black snakes do a lot of good at keeping disease ridden rodents at bay, and my compassionate nature prevents me from having any desire to kill this snake, but I do want it off my patio. I come up with a plan to sweep the snake into a dust pan and flip it into the nearby woods.

Safety in mind, I prepare for my mission. I'm wearing jeans and a tank top, which will suffice, but I add my combat boots, tactical gloves, and my headlight. I arm myself with a broom in one hand, and a dust pan in the other. I rearrange my patio furniture for better access, and I position myself in a crouch so I can slowly approach the reptile while scaring it as little as possible. While I'm crouched and ready for action, my aforementioned neighbor has apparently taken this moment to walk his dog behind the apartment complex, giving himself a direct view of what he must believe is his crazy neighbor, while the snake is conveniently hidden behind a blue bin that I use as an outdoor table. I briefly consider my options, and I decide that I don't have much to gain since he already thinks I'm insane and alerting him to the presence of the snake may only serve to freak him out more. I opt to stay as still as possible, thinking maybe he won't notice me crouched, armed, with a bright halogen light strapped to my forehead if I don't move. (Yeah, like a dinosaur. We can't all be geniuses while thinking on our feet.) Suffice it to say he not only noticed me, but completely altered his path, turning about face and walking his dog in the other direction altogether. I freed the snake without any complications or encounters with the momma snake that can't possibly be terribly far.

I decide I probably shouldn't inform my neighbor that I'm tasked with saving lives on a daily basis, which turns out not to be an issue, because whenever I see him when we are both walking our dogs, he crosses the parking lot or goes in another direction. I've opted to play it up instead, waving and giving him my best crazy eyes and big smile look at every opportunity.