Weed Licenses…..

In a comprehensive article, our local newspaper announced the “winners” in the state sanctioned arena of marijuana product manufacturers, who will be licensed to produce such innocuous items as marijuana vaping devices and edibles. It is a headline that I thought I would never see in my beloved state, but then again I spent the better part of a career dealing with the consequences of this drug and attempting to stop it’s proliferation as one of my law enforcement responsibilities.

First of all, let me be among the first in law enforcement to congratulate the proponents of the “limited” legalization of marijuana on your resounding win in the court of public opinion! Your resolve and cleverness was carefully tailored to discount the down sides of yet another hallucinogenic substance on our streets, in a time when the opioid epidemic is delivering great profit to the funeral industry. I must also congratulate those folks who clearly recognized the enormous profitability of delivering this substance to our population in some, make that any, legal form. It is capitalism at it’s very best! May your profits be enormous and your conscience be unburdened. I read where one of the “winners” acknowledged the concern that some responsible parents might harbor in terms of her product coming home in the hands of their children in school. She submitted a plan to mitigate this possibility. How good is that? Never mind that our young people, who might be inclined, WILL find a way to obtain these products. After all, we are wonderfully successful at keeping alcohol away from young folks, aren’t we?

I have no intention here of recounting the sobering statistics arising out of the experiences of those progressive states that have beat us to the punch in this arena. Every voter in Missouri has the same access to this data as I have. I have absolutely no intention of touching on the mystery surrounding the effects of this drug on a human being, we’ll find out soon enough by relying on the results of one of the largest drug trials in history, courtesy of this industry’s resolve and slick salesmanship. After all, there exists mountains of anecdotal evidence to suggest that smoking, eating, and vaping eases the pain and discomfort of the folks who have used it. The validity of this evidence, in the face of mainstream medicine’s generally contrary position, really isn’t an issue. The voters believe it, so it is! Better yet, it is an issue of freedom of choice, right? The fact that folks will, certainly, die on our highways courtesy of some stoners slight overdose of his now accepted medicinal herb is a secondary issue. The proponents of this industry see the occasional loss of life and gateway to more addictive substances as a small consideration when their profitability is at stake. The industry knew there would be enormous profitability in the legalization of this innocuous herb, but they failed to mention that in their wonderfully successful blitz and petitioning. Marketing at it’s best.

I wish my law enforcement friends the very best as they go about enforcing the law relative to the proliferation of this newly approved herb. It should be easy to sort out the origin of the weed in a car and who is doing what with it. Somebody, somewhere will surely have the appropriate documentation for the marijuana that you encounter. Life was much simpler when the possession of an illegal substance stood on it’s own……but we changed the rules at the ballot box. You should take great comfort in knowing that profitability trumps social and legal implications. We all know about the “mellow” high this harmless herb produces. Like the Titanic, this ship has sailed. We now wait for the iceberg. Believe me, it is out there.

Finally, a note to those who see the tremendous benefits of this herb……..

The phrase “don’t shoot the messenger” was first coined by Sophocles in 442 B.C., and has subsequently been used by Shakespeare in Henry IV. Oscar Wilde shook this phrase up a bit when he said “don’t shoot the piano player, he is doing the best that he can”

So is your correspondent.

Traffic Officers…..

My years as a Highway Patrol officer haunt me, in a good way, as I travel about America. On those occasions that I encounter a police officer working traffic, I cannot help but to silently critique his or her every move while I have them in sight. Safety engineering has significantly diminished their ability to “work” traffic in the opposing lanes of Interstate Highways and you seldom encounter the “wolf Pack” operations of years past when troopers would target a particular county and introduce as many violators as possible to the local circuit court. To the casual observer, these operations appear to be simply revenue raising opportunities to fatten school funds and tax coffers. To alert traffic officers, they represent sublime opportunities to detect and arrest bad actors. Let’s talk about traffic enforcement, the unglamorous aspect of policing, in a law enforcement world that has become highly specialized.

I write with great deference to the specialties within law enforcement. I once commanded the Highway Patrol’s Criminal Bureau, and loved the association with our criminal investigator’s who were among the best sleuths anywhere in this country. These folks were tireless, intelligent, accomplished conversationalists (read interrogators), with uncanny instincts. I was also privileged to command other specialized Patrol components, such as Driver Examination, Commercial Vehicle Enforcement, Governor’s Security and our Information Systems component. All of these folks were dedicated professionals who were on the cutting edge of their respective specialties. Having said this, my heart will always lie with the guys on the road, required to combine a working knowledge of each of these specialties as they police our roads and highways. Indeed, when assigned a new officer to train, I always enjoyed a cup of coffee on the first day of training, where I dispensed a critical piece of advice to the raw officer. “Every killer, rapist, burglar, drug courier, scam artist, child molester, thief, drunk and sociopath, at one time or another, relies upon a motor vehicle to get from one point to another. An alert officer, working traffic will come in contact with them and has a unique opportunity to detect and, possibly, arrest them”. Later, as a field commander, I developed a strong preference for the road officer who was an accomplished generalist, able to work from beginning to end any event that required the services of a uniformed officer. A perfect analogy is the medical doctor who is a general practitioner. He or she is expected to have a working knowledge of virtually every aspect of medicine and I expect accomplished officers to reflect the same knowledge base in their approach to policing as they “work traffic”. Below is a photograph of your’s truly and several zone officers at a DWI checkpoint in Lafayette County. It was years ago, but the memory is crystal clear and heart warming.

Traffic enforcement is one continuous opportunity to encounter mankind in all shapes and sizes. I am acquainted with troopers who have stopped vehicles driven by killers with their dead victim in the backseat. A classmate stopped a vehicle one evening and noticed a burlap bag, moving around on the rear floorboard and ended up arresting a miscreant with a bag full of not quite dead frogs, taken out of season. At a DWI roadblock, I encountered a car driven by a totally naked man, with his totally naked brand new wife sitting next to him (they has just gotten married). They were sent on their way, quite sober, with a story to tell for many years to come. I arrested a very large lady, who turned out to be a cross dressing man in full makeup, for stealing gas at a service station. He/she was testy, and attempted to cut me with a linoleum knife. It did not end well for him/her. Car thieves, homicide suspects and mass murderers have fallen to the alert traffic officer. The Oklahoma City bomber was arrested on a traffic stop. The beginning of the end of the American Mafia was the result of an alert traffic officer in upstate New York. A simple midnight traffic stop of a pickup truck within a few blocks of a Chevrolet Dealership netted me two tire thieves who had just removed 4 tires from a new car, prominently raised on cinder blocks above the other vehicles in line. They crossed the centerline, and then crossed paths with the county jail booking officer.

As I write, and recall the many sometimes humorous, sometimes tragic circumstances encountered while working the road, my blood pressure is rising and I am ready again to call in, announce my availability for duty, and hit the road. Those were wonderful days when you knew at shift’s end you had made a difference. Lost among all the glamour of policing, is the opportunity to help folks who desperately need your help. I never knowingly left a hungry child on a highway. Traffic officers also know where there are resources for virtually every conceivable circumstance from a vet to euthanize injured animals to a meal for a down and out family trying to drive cross country.

So it is that I end with a salute to the traffic officer. Done correctly, there is no more rewarding way to serve your political subdivision and the people you encounter. Often, when calling in service at 5:30 AM, I would rely on my mantra, “641 is 10-41, Lee’s Summit, on another glorious day to serve the people of Missouri”. I meant every word of it…..and still do.

The Gold Standard…….

Old men and old cars have much in common. As we age, the check engine light comes on a little more often, requiring the services of a good mechanic or doctor to diagnosis the malady and repair the problem. The latest trip to a doctor or to the mechanic for service on an old treasured car, or yourself, is the topic of conversation that inevitably dominates the first few minutes when friends meet for one of God’s greatest creations, a cup of coffee. So it is my friends, I am writing today about a “minimally invasive procedure” that greatly improves the quality of life for many old men. With tongue in cheek, let’s have a look.

It begins harmlessly as we age. A walnut sized male gland grandly named the prostate, decides to grow a bit as apparently it has less to do than in our younger years, and does not like to be ignored. This growth manifests itself, gradually, into a minor inconvenience, a little more urgency as you hustle to the bathroom and the selection of a smaller soft drink to be quaffed with your popcorn as you settle in for an epic movie (are there epics out there anymore?). Then the urgency becomes an issue, say when you are in the upper deck of Arrowhead Stadium on a freezing afternoon, twenty or so minutes from the closest bathroom, that must be negotiated through a hundred or so drunks standing and screaming as you pass. To top off the indignity of this situation, when you arrive at the bathroom, there are twenty or so folks standing in line to use the appropriate fixtures, some of which, like you, take awhile to get the pump primed, and the layers of clothing arranged to get the job done. Football, at this point, is the last thing on your mind.

Now as we enter this phase of life, television advertising promises the instant relief of a pill, super this and super that, along with generally accepted pharmaceuticals the docs can prescribe. I have used the medically approved pills, but the gland isn’t impressed over the long term. By now, the indignity of hurried trips to the facilities is compounded by our inability to accomplish much when we get there. It is time to locate and visit with a urologist who is experienced, compassionate and skillful. Time permitting, I never enter into a potentially life altering experience without the benefit of study, and I am talking published materials and not the internet. Over the last few years, I have relied on the Mayo Clinic treatise on diseases of the prostate for a bell clear, understandable assessment of this “growing problem” so delicately described on television. Enter the “Gold Standard” that is the subject of this piece. Hang on, it get’s better.

I selected a local urologist, Dr. Mark Walterskirchen, M.D., who works in the Mercy network. He embodies all of the attributes that I mentioned above and has become another wonderful addition to my medical team here in Springfield. He was instrumental in guiding me through the options available to manage my “growing” problem, welcoming my inquiring nature as I questioned him with book in hand. There are a number of ways that a benign prostate enlargement can be handled, from lasers to invasive surgeries for really large problems. My particular problem could be handled by a “minimally invasive” procedure that involves approaching the gland through the urethra, cleverly named TURP, or trans urethral resection procedure. At this point, most men will take a deep breath and quietly reflect on just how in the devil they are going to remove pieces of the gland through an opening the size of which the Master has provided. For me, it conjured up a new and deep respect for the miracle of childbirth. When I asked the good doctor how many of these procedures he had performed, he casually replied “over 800” and then I queried his complication rate and found it to be unbelievably low. The surgery was scheduled. I checked into Mercy Hospital mid morning, entered surgery around noon and was home the next day at noon. This procedure has been greatly refined over the years, and in the hands of an experienced doctor produces miraculous results. You spend several hours in bed with huge amounts of intravenous fluids being pumped in and subsequently drained through a catheter where the inevitable bleeding is washed out of your system, thus preventing post operative problems associated with pooled blood anywhere. Pain was easily managed with oral medications and I sit here writing, with zero pain, pushing liquids, and the ability to approach the bathroom with the casual indifference of an 18 year old. Medical science, with the guidance of the Master can produce tremendous results.

So why am I this open about such a personal thing. I know of a number of male friends who are struggling with this aging gland, some of which are associated with my female readers. The thought of this procedure is far more sinister than the actual surgery. This procedure has been around for a long while and the Mayo Clinic, as well as many other very reputable medical cathedrals still refer to it as the “Gold Standard” for BPH, benign prostate hyperplasia.

A final word. Dr. Walterskirchen embodies the essence of the practice of medicine. His work ethic is unbelievable and yet his patience is unlimited. He is a busy man, but will take the time to discuss this sensitive business with his patients and help them to arrive at decisions based on solid medical evidence in a collaborative environment. My care at Mercy was second to none, and I have been a serious patient at the renowned Cleveland Clinic.

Oh, and to the women who have given birth and endured other minimally invasive indignities with your feet in stirrups, my hat is off to you. I have seen the light!

The Art of the Gift…….

As I sit at my desk this morning, coffee close by, the world outside is a beautiful white, glazed by a heavy frost that portends the beginning of what is promised as a cold winter. It also reminds me that it is time to think about the gifts for those close to us in celebration of the Christmas season. I am no stranger these days to nostalgic moods, reminding me of the days when cold, heat and other distractions were casually deflected by the urgency of tasks that were much more easily accomplished than today. Today’s writing was, truthfully, triggered by a young painter we are employing to re-color our home. He, too, is an avid fisherman, however he has gone to the trouble to have a fish measuring scale tattooed on his leg. This was a gift to himself, one that he will never forget as long as he is able to bend over and see this masterpiece. Most of us measure a little differently.

In an effort to avoid starring in an episode of “Hoarders”, we from time to time, divest ourselves of the excess of “stuff” that inevitably collects in the far corners of our attic and closets. Yesterday, as I was cataloguing fishing tackle to be sold this spring, I came across my handmade fish measuring board, similar to the dozen or so of these simple treasures that I have constructed for fellow fishermen over the years to replace any number of commercially produced devices available in every tackle store in existence. These boards represent far more than the length of a fish, rather they represent the thousands of crappie, countless lies and half truths, and memories of long days on the water with trusted friends and family. This board has also served as the master of ceremony in a number of tournaments over the years, as a not so precise way of culling fish for weigh ins. If you look closely, you will notice a patina comprised of slime and dried scents that inevitably accumulates over time. I have now relegated the board to a place of prominence on my bookshelf where similar memories are stored. Below is the fish board.

Another priceless gift in my collection of hoarder worthy acquisitions is a gooseberry picker. On the second day of work after being transferred to Springfield, a senior sergeant stopped in and invited me to lunch the next day. I gladly accepted and we rode south into his zone and to his parents home near Table Rock Lake. I enjoyed a wonderful home cooked meal of venison, squirrel, fried potatoes, gravy and huge butter biscuits. This feast was topped off with a healthy scoop of gooseberry cobbler, my very favorite desert. During the meal, the sergeant’s father regaled us with tales of his days as a guide on the White River. He talked of float trips that required days to complete before the great dams were built. His father had been employed by the Owen guide service, a legend in this part of the country. Having discovered my fondness for gooseberries, his dad gifted me with the picker in this photograph. It is a gift that also resides on my bookcase, a reminder of one of the grandest meals ever. Behold the gooseberry picker.

Yet another installment on the art of the gift centers around a tradition that has since fallen from grace in our family. My brother-in-law is also an avid fisherman and woodsman, and he and I exchanged only home made gifts each Christmas. Dennis is not easy to shop for (a common refrain among younger folks attempting to select gifts for their older friends and family, although Dennis is younger than me). One year, Dennis, with help from my sister, Wanda, and her paint brush, constructed the key board in the accompanying photograph, which has proudly hung by our door for years. It is more than just a place to hang keys and such, it is a reminder of float trips and long days on Truman Lake where the scenery often eclipsed the fishing. That same year, I gave Dennis a shadow box, where a map of Hogles Creek, on Truman Lake, was the backdrop for a few “secret” crappie baits that we used to win a Tournament that spring. Neither of these gifts will hang in Johnny Morris’s Wonder of Wildlife Museum, but to me, they are certainly worthy. Finally, in the realm of home made treasures, my sister gifted me recently with a hand made “Valor Quilt”, denoting my service record, specifically my year in Vietnam. The quilt resides in our RV and serves as a reminder that home made reflects a closeness that isn’t easily matched by todays gifts that almost universally run on electricity. Our key board is below.

It is hard to do today, but my challenge to my friends and readers is to think this season through and strive to present a gift that for the rest of the recipient’s life, will elicit a memory that ends in a broad smile every time they see it. To do so, would be to master the art of the gift. To do so without electricity would make you a Grand Master!

Twenty-Four Notes…..

As Veteran’s Day unfolds across America, nearly everyone within reach of a television or radio will likely listen to the hauntingly beautiful melody named “Taps”. I would argue this melody is the most recognizable tune in our country as it denotes patriotism on the grandest of scales. I thought it appropriate on Veteran’s Day to remind folks about the origins of this iconic tune.

In 1862, during the Civil War, Union general Daniel Butterfield and his brigade were camped near Harrison’s Landing in Virginia having just finished a long battle with confederate forces near Richmond. The General was not particularly fond of the bugle call in current use signaling the time to retire for the night. He thought the current tune was abrupt and needed improvement. The General decided to rework the current call and wrote the 24 notes that we recognize today as Taps. He instructed his bugler to play the new melody that night, and noted the popularity of the call among his troops. It wasn’t long before buglers from other units began playing this call. Interestingly, this melody quickly became popular with the Confederate forces as well.

The tradition of playing Taps at military funerals is thought to have begun when Captain John Tidball, an artillery commander, ordered the melody played at the funeral for one of his cannoneers, who was killed in action. The Captain was also convinced that playing Taps was safer than the traditional 3 rifle volley that was the current practice at military funerals. He believed the rifle fire could be mistaken for hostile action, a likely event as opposing forces often were camped within close proximity during the war.

How did we get from a melody named “Extinguish Lights” to the moniker Taps? Again we call upon reliable historians who suggest Taps likely came from the traditional three drum beats, called “Drum Taps” which always accompanied the lights out call. The moniker “Extinguish Lights” remained in military manuals until sometime in 1891. From this day forward, Taps has been formally recognized as a part of military funeral services, flag ceremonies and lights out in the evening as the flag is retired for the night.

These 24 notes immediately stir the souls of all who have served in the military or have military veterans in their families. In fairness, the souls of most Americans, regardless of their vocation, are moved by the finality that Taps conveys. We instantly recognize that Taps signals lights out on all US military bases around the world and also is the final act of devotion reserved for our military members when their living light is extinguished by the inevitability of death. Memories, a flag and these twenty-four notes mark the end of a life well lived and a sacrifice gladly made in the name of freedom and devotion to the greatest country on earth.

May God bless America.

The Barber Shop…..

It’s genetics, I suppose, that has relegated me to gazing wistfully at the striped pole that guards the entrance to the few remaining barber shops in small town America. Thankfully, I don’t suffer from debilitating hair envy, but must admit just a little aggravation at the likes of Tom Selleck and Mathew McConaughey with their full heads of hair and remarkable inability to age normally. As an Army brat, I was introduced to the barber’s chair at a very young age, sitting on the jump seat while less secure kids had to be beaten into submitting to a haircut. Barber Shops are far more than they appear to folks unaccustomed to the inner workings of these palaces of wisdom and prevarication. Let’s have a look…..

My first experiences with a barber occurred on military bases at what were affectionally referred to as simply “The Post Barber Shop”. Civilians manned the chairs and you were required to select from a series of five pictures on the wall behind the barbers all depicting a different style of acceptable military cuts. There were no cute names for these styles, instead they were either one, two, three, four or five. Truth be known, if you average these numbers you come to the number three and if you were the least bit hesitant when you sat down…a three is what you got. The styles ranged from a buzz cut to enough hair to part but they all resulted in whitewalls from the ears up. These works of art cost .75 and could be accomplished in just under two minutes, start to finish. The application of the strip of paper around your neck (Sanex strip, protecting your neck from the cape) and draping with the cape took more time than the cut. You picked a number when you walked in and seldom waited long to hit a chair. You were not afforded the luxury of “preferring” a particular barber which would have been an exercise in futility anyway.

As time passed, I graduated to an off base barber shop, where there was always a supply of the latest, well worn Playboy and Maxim magazines to make your wait just a little more tolerable. I still wore a very short hairstyle, a carryover from my upbringing. To this day, I cannot stand hair on the ears, which unfortunately, is about the only place I have any. Soon, I found myself back in a military barber shop as I transitioned from being “around” the Army to being “in” the Army. Believe me, there is a difference.

Throughout my years in the Highway Patrol, I enjoyed great relationships with a number of small town barbers and came to appreciate their uncanny wisdom relative to all things in life. Barbers are required to have a working knowledge of farming, hunting, fishing, carpentry, gambling and the co-existence of man and woman. For the most part, they have refined senses of humor and uncanny memories. Their profession should never be underestimated. I have never laughed as hard as I have in a barber shop, sometimes at my own expense. A couple of experiences come to mind.

In St. Joseph, Missouri, the preferred shop was a genuine boar’s nest. The wood walls were adorned with various mounts of deer, game birds and fish and the smell of tobacco wafted throughout the shop. I was in a chair, in uniform, when another trooper, off duty, brought his grandson in for a trim. It did not go well, with the kid screaming and fighting the experience in front of 15 or so patrons. From the chair, I called the child’s name and gained his attention. The shop became quiet as I promised the kid that his grand father was going to buy him a pony if he submitted to a haircut. He profusely thanked me, hugged his stunned grandfather and sat quietly for his haircut. Thankfully, I was armed and his grandfather was not. Grandpa thanked me and made promises that are unspeakable, not appreciating the calming affect that a simple pony could convey. We are still good friends and laugh often at my psychology. The grandson likely harbors a distrust of his grandfather to this day, as he did not get his pony.

On another occasion, I was sitting in the Southside Barber Shop on Dunklin, in Jefferson City, Missouri, deeply engrossed in the latest edition of Playboy magazine. I don’t remember the article that had my attention, nor was I paying any attention to the clientele that was moving about the shop. This was a three chair shop, manned by barbers who were a credit to their profession. Joe, Ronnie and Lonnie each had an area of expertise that could entertain you for hours and were masterful at pitting one customer against the other in the name of good humor. It was not uncommon for moms to bring their sons into the shop, which often, but not always, resulted in a certain dampening of the raucous conversation in the shop. A mom sat next to me as I perused the magazine and I looked up into the eyes of the Governor’s wife, who was smiling at my choice of literary fare. I immediately turned two shades of red as she winked at me and pronounced the young lady on the pages that I was entranced with as “simply beautiful”. It was an unforgettable moment, believe me and the subject of much humor on my return trips to the shop. These same barbers have backed me and countless other unsuspecting troopers around their shop with “snakes” in burlap bags and a contraption that had allegedly caught a squirrel that would pop open and fling a very real looking squirrel into the face of an inquisitive customer. The Highway Patrol owes much to these barbers as they provided humor when we most needed it on many, many occasions.

Below is the South Side Barber Shop.

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I am hair challenged these days, and my barber is Sharon who skillfully wields a pair of Wahl clippers with deft precision, leaving me with a little grey on the sides for color. When I wear a hat, as I often do, my shiny pate is hidden from view. When I am sitting for my weekly trim, I close my eyes and imagine, just for a minute, the many hours spent in the magnificent chairs that adorned the barber shops in years past. Love her, though I do, there are some conversations that belong in the sanctity of the Barber Shop….and are not suitable for discussion with your wife!

If you still rely on a real barber, in a real barber shop, enjoy the moment! It is time well spent.

They Called Him Junior . . .

Junior was born into a large, hard working family in the small town of Marion, South Carolina.  Cotton was king in these parts, with tobacco following close behind in providing a living for the folks who either worked the fields or in one of the textile mills in town.  America was transitioning from world War II to a “police” action in a far east peninsula called Korea.  Junior had time on his hands and soon garnered the attention of the local constabulary which resulted in his joining the United States Army.  He was well suited to the rigid discipline the Army provided and soon worked his way up to Master Sergeant at a very young age.  His birth certificate simply said that he was “Junior” in parenthesis, indicating that he was not provided a given name when he entered the world.  Times were indeed tough . . .

Junior loved his military existence and volunteered for Airborne training and became very adept with the small arms that formed the nucleus of an infantry unit.  He soon found himself on a ship, bound for the Korean Conflict where he was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division, a unit that earned many honors as a frontline fighting division.  It was in this early combat that Junior discovered he had yet another talent, a zeal for close quarters fighting.  His tough boyhood experiences had prepared him well for the combat he was soon to see. Junior was a leader from the front sort of solder and possessed the ability to motivate his troops when under fire.  His wife, Hap, had relocated to Japan as many dependent wives and families did during this conflict, and on January 25, 1950 bore a son.  Junior, remembering his rather lackluster entrance into the world, carefully selected a name for the new addition to the family.  He had little time for additional family considerations at this point in time as he was busy earning one of two Silver Stars and a battlefield commission to Second Lieutenant.  Many years later, he talked of the incredible heat during the summer and debilitating cold that Korea welcomed it’s combatants with.

 

Sgt. Johnson’s abbreviated citation for this Silver Star is below:

After returning home from Korea, Lt. Johnson went about changing his military records to reflect a new name instead of the inauspicious “Junior”.  He opted to name himself after the name he had chosen for his son.  Junior Johnson became Stephen R. Johnson, Sr.  I, then, became Stephen R. Johnson, Jr. or SR to my friends.  Dad left this world far too early, felled by a vicious form of lung cancer at the age of 43.  I followed in his footsteps, enlisting in the US Army and completing a tour in Vietnam before becoming a career Highway Patrolman.

When I stand for the flag, or gaze at the colors on our residential flagpole, I remember that folks like dad and countless other dads, brothers and sisters are the very reason why we enjoy this great country.  The Colonel is home now, resting among his brethren and sisters in the national Cemetery in Florence, South Carolina.  Thanks, “Junior”……you left a wake, sir.