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by Craig Smith
I was shooting pool in a biker bar in a large midwestern city.  It was the kind of place where all the drinks came in bottles, and if you yelled "Snake", "Tiny", or "Shadow", ten guys would turn around.  I was between assignments, having just finished a couple of years
undercover working gangs and bikers, and was waiting until the logistics were put together for my next walk in wonderland.  To keep me out of trouble, and from having any fun, they had given me a new guy to break in.  I'd almost bought it in this same bar a couple of years before, so I figured it would be a good place to spend some time and let him start to soak up the aura and ambiance of cutthroats, killers and thieves.

When I'd met the new guy earlier that day, I knew it was going to be a long night, and a long wait for my next assignment.  Just back from DEA school, he shined like a bright new penny in the maroon leather jacket his wife had bought him for Christmas  -  and which he thought made him look like a biker.  He had a poor start on a pathetic mustache, had daringly unbuttoned the collar of his dress shirt an extra button, and sported creases in his jeans that undoubtedly pleased the pot-bellied bureaucrat who thought he ran things in that section, and that disco would never die.  His posture and movements indicated that he had spent most of his career in an office, and his pursed lips looked like he always tried to stay within kissing distance of his next promotion.  Putting him on a Harley would have been like putting a doily on a doberman, so I threw him in a car an off we went.

We made an odd looking pair  -  that's for sure.  I hadn't cleaned up yet for my next assignment; my hair was well past my shoulders and held back with a headband, the jeans I was wearing hadn't been washed since I'd gone under, and the Harley wings on the back of my vest were several beer shades darker than when they were new.  And here he was, looking like a tin soldier wanting to be a secret agent.  But I figured I'd just pass him off as a dork distant cousin from Podunk, Somewhere-Or-Other who had come to town on the run from Barney Fife and we'd get by.

We'd been there for a couple of hours, and things were going about as well as could be expected.  I was having an above average night and was a couple of hundred bucks up at the pool table, and the new guy was, for the most part, staying out of the way.  He'd take turns standing and sitting, standing and sitting, but kept holding onto his beer with both hands like he thought it might try to get away and basically looked like he'd rather be somewhere else  -  an office, probably.  He was drawing glances and stares from just about everyone, but it was too early for anything really major to happen, so I figured we had a little time.

I also figured that there was no reason to push our luck, as I was looking forward to my next assignment, and I was just starting to think about how I was going to get out of there wth both my skin and their money when the new guy came over to me and said, loud enough for everyone to hear, "I'll be right back  -  I have to go pee-pee."

It was as if someone had poured icewater down my back and turned a blow torch on my face.  That room got quiet fast, and every eye in that room turned around to look at him  -  and then, of course, at me.  I couldn't believe what I had heard, but I could believe that both of us would be stone-cold dead in a couple of minutes if I didn't do something.  So I ripped into him with all the rage that I honestly felt as a result of what I thought to be the unfairness of my impending death. Well, the crowd enjoyed the show, and evidently felt that I'd chewed on him enough for the moment, so they relaxed a bit.

Shortly after he got back, I ordered one more round, just to show I was in no hurry to leave.  When I told the waitress to get the new guy one too, he waved it off, smacked his puckered little lips together like a grandmother tasting something bad, and said no more  beer  for him, he had a "sour stomach"  -  did they have Dr. Pepper?

Well, if the room had gotten quiet before, it got deadly quiet now.  A sheep had been spotted, and the circling had begun.  Figuring that it might well be my last act on Earth, I grabbed him by his maroon leather jacket and started dragging him out of the bar.  I guess I looked mad enough, which I was, that no one else intervened, and we made it to the parking lot alive, where I threw him up against the car and asked him why he was trying to get me killed.  He looked at me with a mixture of confusion, fear, and self-righteous indignation, and asked me what I meant.  I knew it was no use explaining it to him, so I just drove him back to the unit where I began the paper work to wash him out.

The next day, the bureaucrat-in-charge called me into his office, wanting to cool me off so that he could keep his new pet yuppie undercover wannabe in the unit.  He told me that this walking suicide-in-waiting needed this assignment for his "career path", and really wanted to be in the unit, and that I couldn't expect everyone to be like me.  He went on to say that he, for one, was extremely glad everyone wasn't like me.

Looking at him, I noticed his pot belly pushing against the vest of his three piece suit, and his pudgy little fingers which had probably only recently shed the callouses built up from so many years of typing and filing, and told him that I was sure he was glad everyone wasn't like me, but that an assignment like this must be determined by ability, not "career path" or "wanting to".  To do otherwise, I told him was what allowed people of inferior ability to rise to positions of authority and responsibility.  He looked at me, knowing that I was talking about him.  I looked at him, knowing he knew.  Finally, he said something about me "needing to learn" something or other, and I left.

Anyone who has spent any time in an organization or professional field knows that, on the large scale, they tend to be run by the mediocre, as there are always more mediocre practitioners than superior ones, and if they stay around long enough, most of them will eventually be promoted to their own level of incompetence.  The same can be seen in the martial arts and defensive tactics instruction.  While there are exceptional practitioners, the majority fall short of this, and are in the field simply because they "wannabe".  But the fault is not entirely theirs  -  it is the nature of the mediocre to want whatever they can get, regardless of their abilities or how hard they work for it.  No, the blame must be shared by those who are in the position of making the promotion and assignment decisions.  Those decisions create the legacy of a unit, a school, a system, or an organization, and that legacy is at stake each time a promotion or assignment is made.

Bikers, Bureaucrats
& Black Belts
Columns by Craig Smith