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Collared by Detective Sergeant Joseph Wambaugh

Quite natural for a 1952 West Scranton-born fellow like me, and years afterward, working as a Teamster dock-worker throughout mid-1970s, and exercising passions for the “good life,” I became intrigued to learn author Joesph Wambaugh was born in Pittsburgh, January 1937. After demanding days of “humping-cargo,”on Roadway Express, Inc., break-bulk dock, Tannersville, Pennsylvania, I'd typically return to a rented-chalet nearby Gouldsboro, eat a hoagie, and frequently play The Allman Brothers, “Mountain Jam.” Later , in bed, secure in loft, I'd read Joseph Wambaugh's remarkable novels, for example, The Onion Field, The Choirboys, and The Black Marble.


Wambaugh's police co-existed very well with personal decadent episodes, for example, selling occasional ounces of homegrown, drinking Miller six-packs while driving home from work, exceeding 65-mph speed-limit, watching-out for “pigs,” PA State cops, on PA I 380 North. Joseph Wambaugh's LA Police Department became a regular and needed force which indicated everything in my 1970s life was actually sane, cops and common criminals of the time were not much different than those once seen on T.V.'s Gunsmoke, Dragnet, Andy of Mayberry, and Car 54. Having choice, I would prefer having one of Wambaugh's L.A P.D. officers slap handcuffs on me, rather than the ones who hunted and killed murderer/fugitive, ex-L.A.P.D., Christopher Dorner.

Come 1992, employed as an Environmental Health & Safety Coordinator and Emergency Spill Response Manager, my respect and delight for Joseph Wambaugh's novels remained at high-levels. In fact, in aftermath of Susan Reinert's brutal murder in 1979, an English teacher at Upper Merion High School, I purchased Mr. Wambaugh's hard-cover edition book, Echoes in the Darkness. The book is among the most riveting, including a complex and convoluted case, I have ever indulged. Susan Reinert was evidently murdered for the sake of others cashing-in on her $750,000 life insurance policy. Par for the course?

A most disturbing factor is Susan Reinert's two young children were involved in this case, and their bodies were NEVER found. As typical, artistic-heroes stumble, get monied, and during the Reinert-trial & H.S. Principal Jay C. Smith's defense, critics alleged Joseph Wambaugh paid prosecutors to “funnel information to him before an arrest was made.” The chief investigator, PA State Police , John J. Holtz, later admitted having accepted $500,000 from Echoes of Darkness author, Joseph Wambaugh. Was apparently an “offer an officer could not refuse,” Joseph Wambaugh suddenly became an intriguing non-fiction character to me, and unfortunately to this day, there's only whispers about Susan Reinert's missing children, in a vast greater-Philadelphia darkness.


Having grown and come-of-age along with Mr. Wambaugh's literary assistance, in Spring of 2006, I personally experienced a highway accident which eerily resembled a chapter recorded in one of Mr. Wambaugh's 1970-era novels. As Emergency Response Supervisor, I stood at the scene of a gruesome tractor-trailer incident involving a driver who lived in the truck's sleeper-cab, fell asleep at wheel on PA I81 South, departed highway, crashed , rolled-over, smashed the cab to pieces, the driver tossed into embankment, blood-remains scattered about upon a load of consisting entirely of frozen French fries.

Southbound traffic moved slowly past the scene, a few passerbys asked, “What happened, sir?” Each time I'd politely inform, “driver fell asleep, crashed, didn't make it.” Admittedly, all the while, I thought about one of Joesph Wambaugh's frustrated LA P.D. officers on-scene at a violent L.A. freeway crash. Traffic crept, Wambaugh's cop became ultra-frustrated with passerby's excessive slowdown and perpetual “what happened” inquiries. Officer fed-up, a fellow along with family nearly stopped their auto, inquired “what happened, sir?” The officer lifted a decapitated head for display, politely said “Uh, this one didn't make-it.” To this very day, as a passerby, I hesitate to look for signs of human gore on highways, and continue to read Joseph Wambaugh.

Another literary-political hero of mine is Paul Craig Roberts who served as Ronald Reagan's Assistant Secretary of US Treasury and Wall Street Journal Associate Editor. Fallen from Establishment grace as a result of dissenting from various official & popular lines, including 9/11 and hallowed Globalized Free-Trade Treaties, & to boot, on September 16, 2013, Paul Craig Roberts wrote a rather grim article, titled, “Police are More Dangerous to the Public Than Criminals.” Shades of The Rolling Stones song “Sympathy for the devil,” and aware of Frank Serpico's telling-experiences, such an opinion was not strange, not completely unpalatable for me. Mr. Roberts is not shy, there is something of T.V.'s old-Colombo swag, humility, and brave-defiance to the beautiful people & intellectual rich-set in him. Frankly though, I am concerned for Mr. Roberts when he goes to a market, maybe jumps though a traffic “caution” light, sees red-rotating light in rear view, a Georgia-cop is mindful about his articles, “can I see your license, sir?”

Come Thanksgiving 2013, its impossible to avoid noticing how police forces are militarized, for one memorable example, the city-wide lockdown, house-to-house police search, in aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing. According to Paul Craig Roberts article, police are “largely federalized by the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security, including state and local forces equipped with military weapons, tanks and training.” Such advanced US police progression, jet-black appearance, & present Mission-creep are rather difficult for me to place in chronological evolutionary-order with Joseph Wambaugh's remarkable 1978-novel, The Black Marble, and most unforgettable L.A.P.D. characters, Natalie Zimmerman and Sergeant Valnikov.

Given dramatic rise of American city-debt and tensions, including hometown Scranton, PA, there is good reason for 21st Century Americans to read The Black Marble. Paul Craig Roberts cryptically warned, “The American population of the past, suspicious of government and jealous of its liberty, has been replaced by a brainwashed & fearful people, increasingly referred to as “sheeple” With confidence and hope for lost “sheeple” among stalking wolf-packs, stained & blemished as anyone, I non-didactically proceed and enter Joseph Wambaugh's world, The Black Marble.

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Doubtless an understatement, Sergeant Valnikov and Natalie Zimmerman were an “odd couple” assigned to work together as L.A.P.D. partners. Valnikov came from a post-October Revolution Russian Orthodox family, and enjoyed celebrating Christmas each year on January 6, and in the heart of Jim Morrison's Los Angeles, knelt before Russian icons, and sang Russian carols. He recited hundreds of “Lord have mercies,” which I did as a youthful and irreverent Byzantine Catholic, 1950-1970s.

Valnikov lived passively amidst national-rebellion against authority, population decadence, anarchy, fading-Pasadena “high-society,” stayed home a lot, with two birds who learned to say “shit” in Russian, guvno. Given years of L.A.P.D. experience, Valnikov remained a “good cop,” as in perhaps the model represented by Gunsmoke Sheriff Matt Dillon. Valnikov perhaps indulged more “Stolichnaya” than all of Dodge City combined, and was quite disheveled & beaten in appearance. Completely unsuited & “unfit” for hiring & promotion in any modern-American police department, Valnikov was charmed by balalaika sounds, and had little taste for 350-Magnum rounds loudly zinging inside police target ranges.

Throughout 90% of The Black Marble, Sergeant Valnikov's younger & attractive “friz-hair” partner, Natalie Zimmerman was determined to get Valnikov removed from L.A.P.D. Duty, due to her recognizing his un-conventional & bizarre behavior while on-duty. Valnikov's weird character continued to both frustrate and impress, he'd bravely pursue a shooter who held hostages in a high-rise building, protected Natalie's life, and fought to recover an upscale Pasadena lady's show-dog, Vickie,” abducted by an outrageously comical & desperate kennel-owner, Philo Skinner. Natalie always became incensed when Sergeant Valnikov would compose, slow-down their “cruiser” to 20mph while dispatched by police-HQ to crime scenes.


In short, Joseph Wambaugh's Natalie Zimmerman learned to hate, admire & eventually PASSIONATELY love Sergeant Valnikov. three-warters into the novel, needing a break, Natalie and Valnikov broke away to an outdoor city-park. Off-duty, they drank Stolichnaya, a street violinist played Gypsy music, and minus Fred Astaire classic sway, Natalie & Valnikov danced all alone. The music made Valnikov sad, and Natalie could not understand why. Valnikov's explained, “I get sad with Gypsies,” and Natalie interestingly opined, “You're a lousy American, Valnikov.”

Approaching 2013 finale, the words “good & bad American” are tossed around rather loosely, often flippantly. Less than a month ago, a local Old Forge Borough Police Chief, Mr. Larry Semenza, was acquitted on several counts relating to sexual abuse of a minor-girl who frequently “hung around” Old Forge firehouse and police HQ. Only charge that stuck on Mr. Semenza was “corruption of minor,” and in meantime, a fellow Old Forge Police Captain confessed to having committed sexual abuse with the same girl, and will serve jail-time. A couple years ago, Scranton Police Department responded to a home where a woman was found quite mad, out-of-control, wielded a steak-knife. Upon entry into her home, the woman approached responding Scranton officers, and she was shot dead. Not long ago, a lady with child aboard went on a driving-rampage in Washington D.C., approached White House fence, gunned-down, we will never hear her story.

Good and bad cops? Does such situation ever radically change in a nation's life? Anywhere? Joesph Conrad's novel, The Secret Agent, shadowy police are everywhere, Based upon 1930s militarized police-societies, for example, Germany and Soviet Union, one can validly argue radical police-methods indeed occur. Unafraid to speak with rare-insider intelligence & courage, and to reiterate to an over-kill point, Paul Craig Roberts wrote the daring article, “Police are More Dangerous to the Public Than Criminals.” A hard “pill to swallow,” but to this day, I cannot dismiss the accuracy of such non-Magical bullet thought-trajectory. Grown accustomed to the cinematic-concept, “this is no country for old men, at article end, I breathed-deep, welcomed Mr. Roberts' mature reflection, recalling times, “when the police were different. If there was a fight, the police broke it up. If it was a case of people coming to blows over a dispute, charges were not filed.” In my mind, I hear Edith & Archie Bunker, stuffed in Smithsonian, forever they sing, “O the way J. Edgar played.”


One assumes, L.A.P.D. veteran Joseph Wambaugh remembers such better times, but post-Watts riots, Manson Family-murders, Kent State shootings, 1970s SWATs, N.Y.P.D. shooting unarmed Amadou Diallo, Columbine & Nickel Mines School mass-murders, unsolved White-Powder threats, Occupy Wall Street hammered by police batons, immoral & unnecessary wars – in concerto all served to to dramatically change US police-action M.O.s, rules of engagement.

A sense of unreality & fear grips over-taxed Scranton residents, they can no longer depend upon available Beat Cops for protection, cannot afford additional surveillance cameras. Driving around Rose Bowl Pasadena, 1970s, Wambaugh's Sergeant Valnikov evoked the present, stated, “my whole life in this city, and I am lost.”

However, educational scenes and characters on display in The Black Marble make me believe a stressed-out & narcotized society can eventually emerge from anesthesia, come to grips with serious material-misfortune, unmask carefully planned & executed-ideologies, overcome awesome 1%-er driven-politics, pick up The Black Marble, hold to beating hearts, maintain common sense & civil liberties.


Charles Orloski 

Friday, 22 November 2013