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Former Chicago Policewoman Gina Gallo

Former Chicago policewoman Gina Gallo. While she was part of the force, she also wrote about her work in columns for NYCop online magazine and Blue Murders online magazine. They were collected in the book Crime Scenes (Blue Murder Press). She has a new memoir, Armed & Dangerous: Memoirs of a Chicago Policewoman


Other segments from the episode on March 14, 2001

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 14, 2001: Interview with Dennis Lehane; Interview with Gina Gallo; Commentary on language.


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Dennis Lehane talks about his best-selling novel
"Mystic River"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest Dennis Lehane is the author of the new best-seller "Mystic River." In
an article last week on contemporary thrillers, New York Times book critic
Janet Maslin wrote, `There is no better reason than "Mystic River" to stay
home with a good book. Lehane is best known for his series of private eye
novels, featuring the team of Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro.

But "Mystic River" isn't part of the series and isn't a private eye novel. It
begins in 1975, when three boys are fighting in the street and a couple of
cops drive by to break it up. Two of the boys flee. The third is picked up
by the cops, who turn out to really be child molesters posing as cops. The
boy is released after several days and returns home traumatized. The novel
picks up 25 years later and follows the lives of the three childhood friends.
One is now an ex-con who owns a corner store. His daughter has been murdered.
The other has become a homicide detective and is investigating the murder.
The third, the one who was abducted, is a suspect.

I asked Dennis Lehane if the abduction in the novel relates to anything that
happened to him as a child.

Mr. DENNIS LEHANE (Author): No. I'm not a big believer in autobiographical
fiction, if you will. I believe in, you know, the place and the flavor of the
world you grew up in. But I don't believe in the particulars. I don't
believe in, `Oh, remember when, you know, Johnny Sullivan did this? And he
had this certain way of smiling. Let's take that and put it in a book.' I
don't do that. But I do try and capture sort of, again, the texture and the
flavor of the world I grew up in.

This incident happened, actually, to myself and a friend of mine who were, you
know, not quite arrested but we were taken off the street. We were getting in
a fight when we were kids, and in the sort of heat of the moment neither of us
thought to ask for a badge. It turned out the gentlemen were cops, but that
was something that always stuck in my head, I think, because my mother looked
so terrified.

GROSS: She suspected that maybe they weren't cops?

Mr. LEHANE: No, she just didn't--she just thought the whole incident seemed
weird at the time. It turned out they were police officers, everything, but
I'll never forget the fear when, you know, she said, `Of course you saw their
badge, right?'

GROSS: Now it's this abduction that sets everything in motion in your new

Mr. LEHANE: Yep.

GROSS: There's sexual abuse in an earlier book "Gone, Baby, Gone"...

Mr. LEHANE: Yep.

GROSS: ...where a child's abducted. You work briefly, I think, counseling

Mr. LEHANE: Yes.

GROSS: ...who have been abused. What kind of work did you do?

Mr. LEHANE: I was a therapeutic counselor in a treatment facility. We would
take kids from--we would, you know, review the files in juvenile hall and we
would pick kids who we thought were sort of in the grey area between when a
victim turns into a victimizer, and we would try to get them before they
turned into victimizers and help them. And that was what we did and that was
the place I worked.

GROSS: What were some of the things that you learned during that experience
that you used in your writing?

Mr. LEHANE: Well, I remember a woman I was dating at the time said, you
know, that she'd never seen me angry until I took this job. You know, that I
was a pretty, you know, even-keel type of guy. So I discovered a capacity for
anger at, I think, just the waste that I'd see. I also discovered a very sort
of dirty secret of social work which was, you know, nine out of 10 times it's
the parent; you can trace it back to the parent. A bad seed is a very rare
thing. And it's not society and it's not Marilyn Manson and it's not--you
know, it's kids who were abused or kids who were neglected or kids who were
badly parented who turn out to be, you know, the kind of kids who shoot up
schools or the kind of kids who become bullies or become murderers, become
anything. And then it just depends upon the level of abuse. That can dictate
a lot of things, because if the humanity is beaten out of you or sexually
exploited out of you, then it's silly to expect that that humanity will be

GROSS: My guest is writer Dennis Lehane. Your new novel, "Mystic River," is
different from your other novels in that, although there are crimes at its
center, it's not about private detectives and it's not part of your private
detective series. Why was it time for you now to get out of that series and
write a book that's independent of that?

Mr. LEHANE: Oh, I think a lot of times it's just dictated by--you know, I
wish we had a word for it--the inspiration, what ever you want to say. I was
not inspired to write a book in the series. There was nothing there. The
well was dry. And this book had been sort of gently rapping on the window for
about five or six years, and then it began to really bang on the door about
two years ago.

GROSS: What was the message as it was banging?

Mr. LEHANE: You know, `Make a hole, make it wide. Let us in.' I always
start with characters. I very rarely have a plot. And so it was just the
characters. And there was this one line, `Brendan Harris(ph) loved Katie
Marcus like crazy, loved her like movie love,' and that line just kept
spinning around in my head for years--I mean, five years probably. And so it
just--and then gradually, I got this second line which was, `It occurred to
him as he was shaving that he was evil.' And those two lines began to sort of
become the building blocks of the book.

GROSS: Where do they actually turn up in the book?

Mr. LEHANE: `Brendan Harris loved Katie Marcus like crazy,' is the very
first line of the present day chapter--first chapter in present day. That's
the first line of chapter three, which is the first chapter in the 2000
section. And then the, `It occurred to him while he was shaving that he was
evil,' shows up in the last chapter.

GROSS: So let me to ask you read that line that first came to you before the
novel was written and now it's that first line in the first chapter set in the

Mr. LEHANE: Sure. `Brendan Harris loved Katie Marcus like crazy; loved her
like movie love with an orchestra booming through his blood and flooding his
ears. He loved her waking up, going to bed, loved her all day and every
second in between. Brendan Harris would love Katie Marcus fat and ugly. He
would love her with bad skin and no breasts and thick fuzz on her upper lip.
He'd love her toothless, he would love her bald. Katie: The trill of her
name sliding through his brain was enough to make Brendan feel like his limbs
were filled with nitrous oxide, like he could walk on water and bench press an
18-wheeler, toss it across the street when he was finished with it.

Brendan Harris loved everyone now because he loved Katie and Katie loved him.
Brendan loved traffic and smog and the sound of jackhammers. He loved his
worthless old man who hadn't sent him a single birthday or Christmas card
since he'd walked out on Brendan and his mother since Brendan was six. He
loved Monday mornings and standing in line at the RMV. He even loved his job,
though he wouldn't be going in ever again.'

GROSS: So you used that sentence, that first sentence that came to your mind,
to very good effect in this passage that you just read. Have you every had a
first sentence that came to your mind that you ended up not using by the time
you actually got to writing the book?

Mr. LEHANE: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. I think that so often you start with
something and all it is is a way to get you into a book. Like my next novel,
which I have begun, I sort of already know that the first 10 pages I've
written will never make the book, you know. But I had to put it in to sort of
figure things out for myself. And the trick is you fall in love with some of
the sentences and you just got to remember that Orwell line, you know, `Murder
your darlings.'

GROSS: Right.

Mr. LEHANE: So...

GROSS: What do you like about writing familiar characters when you are
writing your private eye series?

Mr. LEHANE: Oh, it's wonderful because there's a--I think the same reason
readers read these books, is because gradually there becomes this almost
tender familiarity with these people. And they're like old friends and it's
like saying, `Come on by, have a drink,' you know. You say, `Come into the
book. Oh, we haven't seen him in a while. We haven't seen him in 400 pages,
since, you know, book number four.'

GROSS: What are the limitations?

Mr. LEHANE: The reason I read and the reason I write is to discover things
about characters. Plot it just a vehicle to do that. That's all plot is.
It's just the actions by which a character is explicated. And I think
gradually the more you write about a character, the less you don't know about
them. And the more you read about a character, the less you don't know about
them. And that's why, I think, that it's very rare you hear somebody speak
about a series and say, `Yeah, but the 15th book is the best.' Nobody ever
says that. They'll all say that the fifth book is the best or the third book
is the best. And I think that's because the characters have become overly
familiar and there is no sense of a journey, there are no epiphanies left to
have about this person. So I think that's the point when you got to pull the

GROSS: Right.

Mr. LEHANE: I don't know if I've reached that point yet. I don't think I
have, but I think I'm near it.

GROSS: My guest is Dennis Lehane. His new novel is called "Mystic River."
We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is crime writer Dennis Lehane. His new novel is the best
seller "Mystic River."

Did you have any relatives who were cops...


GROSS: ...or friends' fathers who were cops? Not to just blow on cliche but
you grew up in an Irish neighborhood and, you know, a lot of--particularly
when you were growing up, probably, a lot of Irish fathers were cops.

Mr. LEHANE: Oddly, no. No, not with my friends. One of my closest friend's
uncle was a rather prominent cop, but I had very little contact with him. My
wife's family are all cops but I didn't grow up around cops. I grew up around
laborers. You know, my father worked for Sears and Roebuck. Most of my
friends' fathers worked--you know, they were truck drivers and occasionally a
postman. But, no, we didn't grow up with that law enforcement vibe around us.

GROSS: Did your opinion of or relationship with cops change from childhood to

Mr. LEHANE: No. I think one of the greatest things about growing up in the
inner city, if you see it correctly, we always new the places never to go and,
say, drink, for example, when you're 17 years old; under-age drinking or smoke
pot or whatever. The places never to commit crimes were small towns, because
they always had the absolute toughest cops. Because they had--our opinion at
the time was they had nothing better to do, where in the inner city we had
police officers and they were, a lot of times, putting their life pretty much
on the line. They were the ones dealing with gangs. They were the ones
dealing with shoot outs and homicides, etc.. And so they tended to be very
easy to deal with if you weren't in their face. And I think that was because
they had a relative sense.

So if they caught a couple of under-age kids drinking beer, they took your
beer and they walked away. They didn't have anything to prove, I guess. So I
think that gave me a respect for the city cop, for the guy who really has to
go out and literally put his life on the line, whereas small town police, to
some extent, is a bit of a Napoleon complex.

GROSS: Dennis Lehane is my guest. There's a passage describing the
neighborhood that the characters in your book grew up in that I'm going to ask
you to read.

Mr. LEHANE: Sure. `They all lived in East Buckingham, just west of
downtown, a neighborhood of cramped corner stores, small playgrounds and
butcher shops where meat, still pink with blood, hung in the windows. The
bars had Irish names and Dodge Darts by the curbs. Women wore handkerchiefs
tied off at the backs of their skulls and carried mock leather snap purses for
their cigarettes.

Until a couple of years ago, older boys have been plucked from the streets as
if by spaceships and sent to war. They came back hollow and sullen a year or
so later or they didn't come back at all. Dazed mothers searched the papers
for coupons. Nights, the fathers went to the bars. You knew everyone.
Nobody, except those older boys, ever left.'

GROSS: Is that an accurate description of the neighborhood you grew up in?

Mr. LEHANE: Yeah, I think that's pretty close. If you look back--my brother
and I, we're always stunned to look back at pictures taken of us in '71, '73
and we look like we just, you know, stepped off Main Street in Mayberry. I
mean, you know, we still had the buzz cuts, still--you know, the clothing was
much more what you would think of in, say, 1963, Brooklyn. You know, just the
look of everything. It was, you know--and then right down the street
practically--you know, a couple of miles away, essentially, there's, you know,
student sit-ins at Harvard. And Harvard Square looks like what you expect
Harvard Square to look like circa 1971 and '72. But none of that reached the

GROSS: Why do you want write about that neighborhood now?

Mr. LEHANE: In your 20s, if you're a writer, you spend a lot of your 20s
discovering your strengths and your limitations. And what I discovered is
that while I could write about any place and do it adequately, the stuff that
struck a cord, that really reached people at a gut level, was the stuff I set
in, you know, inner city, Northeastern neighborhoods. Gradually you just go,
`You know, well, Fitzgerald never really wrote about poor people really well,
and Faulkner never wrote anything set outside of Mississippi that was any
good. And so maybe that's my limitation. Maybe I shouldn't be trying on all
these hats. Maybe I should go to my strength.'

GROSS: When you were a kid in the early '70s with the buzz cut, looking like
you were in Mayberry RFD, what was your attitude about the college students
protesting on Harvard? What did you think of them?

Mr. LEHANE: Oh, well, we had, I think, a very neighborhood attitude, which
was--you know, this was also one bussing was ripping the inner city apart,
and there was this very--a siege mentality took over, because the attitude of
the establishment, certainly the establishment newspapers, was that it was a
racial issue, where the people who were in the neighborhoods felt it was much
more of a class warfare issue. It was about people who didn't live in the
neighborhoods making decisions that affected the neighborhoods and then
stepping back and letting the neighborhoods suffer.

And I think certainly the sense of the--you know, when we'd see the news and
we'd see the news and we'd see what was going on at Harvard or what was going
on at, you know, Berkeley out in California, or wherever, there was a sense
of they're dilettante, you know. They're the fortunate sons, where the people
who are truly suffering for this aren't protesting because they're dead or
they're dying because they couldn't afford to go to college, etc. So I think
that was certainly--there was never a sense in my neighborhood that anybody
thought Vietnam was a good idea. You know, never. I remember it was very
clear, my father was--you know, if my brother ever got to that age, which he
neared just as the war ended, you know, my father was ready to put him on a
plane to Canada.

GROSS: The characters in your new novel "Mystic River" don't go home at night
and, you know, read novels.


GROSS: Were you a reader as a child?

Mr. LEHANE: Oh, God.

GROSS: And was that unusual in your neighborhood or in your family?

Mr. LEHANE: Yes, it was in both. Well, my brothers were readers, my older
brothers. You know, they read a lot of, you know, S.E. Hinton and, you know,
Robert Ludlum and things like that. So, no, there was read--and my sister
read a lot of classics. So there was reading in my family, certainly. And I
just picked it up at a much more ferocious clip. I mean, I started reading
when I was six. My mother took me to the library when I was six, and it's
still the most pivotal event in my life; you know, changed everything. And so
did it seem a little odd to the neighborhood? Yeah, definitely. But the
great thing is is that everybody was pretty cool about it, too. You know, it
wasn't like everybody said, you know--well, I didn't wear glasses. But I
wasn't ostracized for being a reader. It was just, you know, `That Lehane kid
is a little odd,' you know, in the same way that you'd say is about, you know,
the kid who would, every winter, stick his tongue to the pole.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. LEHANE: You know, `He's all right but he's a little odd.

GROSS: Did you have anyone to talk to about what you were reading?

Mr. LEHANE: No, not for the most part. I think that certainly I was in a
vacuum when it came to that, at least until I got to high school. But there's
nothing--that's a good vacuum to be in, I think, because by the time I got to
college, for example--and I dropped out of a couple of colleges. The second
one I was an English lit major and I didn't particularly enjoy talking about
writing or literature. I enjoyed reading it and I enjoyed practicing it if I
could. But I didn't like talking about it.

I think that's a good attribute for a writer to have. Because I've seen a lot
of writers, you know, who I went to school with, who got waylaid by becoming
critics, essentially, by talking too much about theories behind writing. And
that's not conducive to being a good writer. I mean, F. Scott Fitzgerald had
a great line where he said, `The writer should not be the smartest guy in the
room. He should just be the most observant.' And, you know, so, again, I
didn't talk much with people, but I think that was good early on.

GROSS: You know, you've written or are writing, I believe, a screenplay based
on one of your private eye novels.

Mr. LEHANE: Yes.

GROSS: So do you have in mind the type of actor you'd like to play your
private eyes Patrick and Angie? And I'm wondering, do you want them to be
ultra-attractive or just to have a lot of screen presence?

Mr. LEHANE: Oh, no, I like--I'm much more of a character actor guy. I like
people who just--that whatever it is they got, no one else has it. And I'm
not talking star power but, say, a guy like Will Patten, for example. I don't
even know if you know who that is.

GROSS: Yeah, I do.

Mr. LEHANE: Now there's a guy, you put him on the screen and you know nobody
else is going to going to give a performance like him, nobody. Will Patten is
Will Patten, you know. So I tend towards character actors, which would make
me a very bad Hollywood producer because I wouldn't get, necessarily, bankable
stars. I think a perfect Patrick would be Ray Liotta. Although he might be a
few years older than him, I think he'd be great. But I don't think Hollywood
considers him an A-list star, if you know what I mean, the way they would,
say, a Ben Affleck...

GROSS: Right.

Mr. LEHANE: ...or a Tom Cruise or something like that. So, yeah, I have my
theories but I also know they're rather impractical.

GROSS: Is the movie being made?

Mr. LEHANE: Well, it's certainly in development with Paramount. I have to
turn in the second draft of the script next week.


Mr. LEHANE: So we'll see what happens with it. But it's not an
experience--I think having done it and worked extremely hard on it, I don't
think I would ever do it again, which is adapt one of my novels.

GROSS: Why not?

Mr. LEHANE: It's just too--it's asking you to turn it into a Reader's Digest
Condensed Book. You know, it's asking you to perform a--I wouldn't go as far
to say an abortion, but it's asking you to perform an operation in which
large pieces are going to be removed and the last person who should be asked
to do that is the person who created that body in the first place.

GROSS: So you worked so hard to get it right and now you have to completely
undo it.

Mr. LEHANE: Yeah, it's like books on tape, and they always ask me to approve
the abridged copy.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. LEHANE: And I always say on the phone, `OK, it's approved.' And they
say, `No, we're sending it to you.' And I say, `I'm just going to throw it
away. I'm not going to look at it. I'm not even going to look at it for a
second.' Why would I do that? I just wrote a 400-page novel. Why would I
look at, you know, a 190-page abridgement. That's just insane. I understand
from a business perspective at why you must do this and I have no problem with
it, but don't ask me to sit there and read a butchering of my novel.'

GROSS: Dennis Lehane is the author of the new best-seller "Mystic River."

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: Coming up, a cop's daughter who hated what the job did to her father
but became a cop herself. We talk with Gina Gallo about her 16 years on the
Chicago police force and her experiences as a woman cop with a woman partner.
She's written a new memoir. Also from the hipsters of the '50s to teen-agers
today, linguist Geoff Nunberg considers the use of the word `like.'

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Gina Gallo talks about her 16 years as a police officer
in Chicago

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

As the daughter of a Chicago policeman who was shot on the job, Gina Gallo
thought that being a cop was a loser's game. The job had made him emotionally
detached to the point of coldness. She became a psychotherapist and worked at
a state facility, but after budget cuts threatened her job and she was a
divorced mother of two, she figured out she'd make more money and get better
benefits as a cop. She joined the Chicago police with the intention of
working in the counseling center, but she ended up on inner-city streets.

When she became a cop in 1982, many of the men on the force had trouble
accepting women. Even some of the women felt safer with a male partner. Not
Gallo; for several years she had a woman partner. Gallo stayed on the force
until 1998 and now writes stories based on her experiences. Her new book is a
memoir called "Armed & Dangerous." I asked her what her father thought of her
becoming a cop.

Ms. GINA GALLO (Author, "Armed & Dangerous"): He thought that I was out of my
mind. He said there was no way in the world that I would last. He said,
`I'll give you five minutes and you're going to run screaming out the door
because you are not cop material.'

GROSS: He was wrong, huh?

Ms. GALLO: He was--well, I still don't know what cop material is this many
years later. After all I've seen and done and all the people that I've
interacted with, I really don't know if there is a definition for that term
`cop material.'

GROSS: You recount in your book a situation in which you and your partner,
Diane, showed up at a spouse-abuse call and she saved your life in that. A
guy was ready to shoot you. Would you describe what happened?

Ms. GALLO: We got a call of a man with a gun and when we got to the house
she went around the back of the house and I went through the front. And we...

GROSS: Your partner went around the back.

Ms. GALLO: Right. Diane went around the back. We called for backup, but it
was very busy that night, so we didn't anticipate that anybody would be
showing up anytime soon. There was only one rear entrance and she knew that
he was going to come out that entrance, but she--there was no place else to
hide in the yard, so what she did was she climbed up on the garage roof and
she thought that if he came out the back door, he would certainly turn--when
he saw that no one was in the yard, he would certainly turn and attempt to
kill me, which is exactly what he did. So she just jumped off the garage
roof and jumped on top of him. She just leaped on him and she ended up
smashing her knee, breaking her kneecap, but she did save my life. And that
was the first night that we worked together.

GROSS: How soon did she get back on the job after breaking her kneecap?

Ms. GALLO: She was gone for about six months.

GROSS: And then you became partners again.

Ms. GALLO: We became partners and we worked together for a number of years,

GROSS: I want you to describe the episode that ended your partner, Diane's,
career as a cop.

Ms. GALLO: We got a call of a domestic disturbance in the projects. These
are high-rise projects--15 floors. And when we got there, it was a man and
his wife and he had come home drunk and they got into an argument and she
said she was calling the police. She wanted him out of the house, so they
started to physically fight. When Diane and I got there, she wanted us to
lock him up. She said she would sign complaints, but she definitely wanted
him taken away, which is something that is often said in a domestic
disturbance. The woman will, generally, say--and this is, I think, a power
move on her part. She'll say that, `Yes, I want him locked up. I'll sign
complaints. I am the one who's been maligned. I am the victim. Give me the
complaints. I'll sign them, but take him to jail.' And there's nothing that
the man can do except be arrested; go to jail, except that in a great number
of these situations, when--after the complaints have been signed and you go
to arrest the man, the woman changes her mind and, suddenly, the police are
the enemy and she'll fight the police because they're trying to take her man,
which is what happened.

She started to fight with me. While this was happening, her husband, who had
a gun in his waistband--and we didn't know this at the time--dropped the gun.
Diane had to wrestle him for the gun. They were involved in a fight in the
apartment over the gun. I ended up rolling out on the balcony with this woman
and everyone that lived on that floor heard the commotion; came out of their
apartments and saw that there was a cop down on the floor wrestling around and
they all came over and they decided to fight, too. And it was me they were
fighting and kicking and stomping, while my partner was wrestling with a man
with a gun, alone, in the apartment. I heard gunshots. I heard several
gunshots and then I heard police coming up the stairs and I was starting to
pass out. I don't remember anything else.

What had happened was Diane had gotten shot in the hand. The man had gotten
shot in the thigh during the struggle. His shot was minor. Her injuries were
severe enough that she had to leave the job on a permanent disability.

GROSS: What was it like for you to go back to work after your partner was
disabled and after you were beaten to the point of unconsciousness?

Ms. GALLO: Surprisingly, being beaten to the point of unconsciousness was not
the issue because part of what you go through on the job trains you to expect
that. That's just considered occupational hazard and so it's not something
that you really concern yourself with, one way or the other. You get--if
you're--if you're a police officer and you're doing your job, you're going to
get injured, eventually, and, usually, regularly. So that was not the issue.

But going back to work and knowing that I wouldn't be with her was, like, not
having one of my limbs or working--being expected to work without a gun. I
didn't have the backup. I didn't have the emotional commitment. I didn't
have that whole set of communications that you develop over a long term with
someone that you really trust. And I had to start all over again with someone
else. It was very, very difficult.

GROSS: Did your children want you to return to the force after you were
injured and your partner was disabled?

Ms. GALLO: I had some issues with my children. They were--they were in
grammar school. They were early years of grammar school at that time. And
one of my sons had started having nightmares because he had gotten so used to
seeing me come home bloody--blood on my uniform or injured or having to have
stitches or crutches or a cast. And I was the only parent. It was a
single-parent family. And he started having nightmares that something would
happen to me where I would never come home again.

GROSS: So, you know, you'd been through this kind of thing as a child when
your father was a cop. What did you do to try to console your child?

Ms. GALLO: There's not a lot you can do when they see you strapping on the
gun belt every night to go out and do it again. And I could not legitimately
say to them, `Don't worry. I'm going to be fine. I'll be back again,'
because you don't know that and they don't know that and so you have to give
them the truth, which is, `I'll be careful and I'll do the best I can and we
all have to be strong together.' And that's really the best that you can give

GROSS: My guest is Gina Gallo. Her new memoir, "Armed & Dangerous," is about
her experiences as a Chicago cop from 1982 to '98. We'll talk more after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Gina Gallo and she's written a new memoir about her 16
years on the Chicago police force. It's called "Armed & Dangerous."

What can you tell us about the call that ended your career as a cop?

Ms. GALLO: There had been some police officers killed that afternoon. I was
working midnights and it had followed--this killing of these two officers on
the previous afternoon had followed an number of incidents where other police
officers had been gunned down in the street and so the emotional climate
within the department among the ranks was very, very tense because the word on
the street was, among the gang population in Chicago, which is extremely
high--was that, `If you kill the cop, you're considered at a very high status
within the gang hierarchy.' So it almost became like a status symbol to be
able to say that, `Yes, I killed a cop and, look, I have his gun and I used
his gun, after I killed him, to go out and commit another crime.'

When I went to work that night, everyone was tense. These two officers had
been killed that afternoon. When we sat in roll call that night, our watch
commander told us that, `Well, they're out there and they want our blood and
they're gunning for us, so be careful and do what you have to do to protect
yourself.' I was working with a rookie that night. He had just gotten out
of--off probation. He had been on the street only a matter of weeks and he
wanted to work with me because my regular beat was one that was in the
projects in the inner city and I regularly got a high number of gun and
narcotic arrests. So for a rookie coming out of the academy, this is very
exciting. These are the felony arrests that they want to get into because
it's something that they see on TV, so they think if they get into it right
away, they're going to be like all the guys on "NYPD Blue." So he requested
to work with me. I wasn't familiar with this guy. I didn't know anything
about him, other than that he had just gotten off probation.

So we began our tour of duty. It was very, very cold that night. It was in
January and it was relatively uneventful and I was really happy about that
because I hadn't seen him work and I didn't know how he would perform. We got
a call of a domestic disturbance at about 2 or 3 in the morning and when we
got there, it was second-story apartment and the mother was telling us that
her son was the problem and that he was running around with gang bangers and
was using a lot of drugs and he was bringing them into her house and she
didn't want them there and she wanted us to do something about it.

The son wasn't on the premises at that time, she said. It was actually a
one-room apartment; like a studio. And the only thing that we could see was a
bed and a sink and a closet area that had a curtain over the closet. She said
that he had gone out with his friends, but he was expected back in several
hours, but she just wanted to know what her rights were when he came back, if
he should happen to come back with his gangster friends. Did she have the
right to put them out of the house? Did she have a right to use a weapon or
should she just call the police?

While we were talking to her about this, my partner was standing across the
room. I was facing her and the son, who was hidden in the closet, jumped out
with a bat in his hand and started to beat me with a bat. The first blow was
to the head. It knocked me down and he was beating me with the bat, while my
partner stood and watched. My partner is the one who had the radio. He could
have radioed for help and he didn't. He froze. He was terrified. He did
nothing. He didn't pull a weapon. He didn't use any intervention at all.
And when I started screaming and told him to shoot him, he ran out of the

GROSS: Were you injured badly?

Ms. GALLO: I was seriously enough where I passed out. There was a skull
fracture and a number of other things, but I was passing out and the son
dropped the bat and decided that if the partner had run out, then maybe he was
going for backup and would bring more police, so he started to leave, but then
he realized that I was a cop. I had a gun. So he came back to get it. And
because I had curled into a fetal position and was lying on the floor--I had
broken ribs and a broken collar bone, as well, he kicked me to try and turn me
over so he could find the gun. And when he did that, it made me open my eyes
and I shot at him.

GROSS: Did you hit him?

Ms. GALLO: He's--I hit him, but I didn't hit him--his body. It went
through--he was wearing a leather jacket. It went through his jacket, through
his sleeve, but when I shot, he stumbled backward and he ran out of the
building. And I tried to get up and I crawled after him and because it was on
the second floor, I fell down that flight of stairs; landed at the bottom of
the stairs and laid there for an unknown amount of time until my field
sergeant happened to be driving by, saw the squad car and no one in it, and
then came closer to see what was going on and saw my body at the bottom of the

GROSS: What happened to your partner who abandoned you?

Ms. GALLO: My partner had run. They found him several blocks away, hiding.
And I was taken to the hospital immediately to ER. They brought him. They
had another patrol car bring him to the hospital to take his report. He was
terrified. It was his first situation where there had been any kind of
incident of violence on the street and he just froze.

GROSS: Is he still a cop?

Ms. GALLO: Yes.

GROSS: So this is the incident that ended your career because of your
injuries. After that was over, when you realized you weren't going back to
work as a cop ever again, did you have any regrets about having been a cop?

Ms. GALLO: There weren't any--after those injuries and after I was out of the
hospital and after an extensive amount of physical therapy, that actually did
not end the career at that time from that incident. They actually had me
working inside in a limited-duty capacity, which means that you work in a
clerical position, but you don't ever work on the street again. And I did
that for several years, but the initial injuries that I had sustained were so
debilitating that there continued to be deterioration. So finally, it got to
a point where there was some degree of paralysis, and finally the department
said, `You are not capable of carrying on even these duties in a limited
capacity, so you have to take a duty disability.'

And I don't have any regrets about the job. The regrets that I have are the
way that it changed me in ways that almost mimic my father that I didn't
expect and didn't anticipate and didn't recognize until afterward.

GROSS: Like what?

Ms. GALLO: My perspective of people now is much more skeptical; much more
doubtful of the validity of what they're saying to me. I have a tendency not
to believe people. I have a tendency to question what their true agenda is
and whether or not there is a scam. It changes the way I sit in a restaurant
with my back to the wall or the way I see people in a position where they work
with children and I wonder about what their true motives are. Are they really
motivated to work with kids because they like them or do they have other
less-noble motivations? From the things that I've seen on the street, it's
colored how I view people as a whole and it's not always in the most positive

GROSS: Do you still carry a gun?

Ms. GALLO: Yes.

GROSS: How come?

Ms. GALLO: Because I just don't know what's out there and I need to be ready.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Now you write in your book that you were the first in your
class to kill someone in the line of duty and that after you shot him, you
expected to feel guilty, but instead you felt nothing.

Ms. GALLO: I felt--I waited. I had heard stories in the academy. And this
is one of the things that they teach you while you're going through is that,
well, you know, you--they'll tell you, `You can go through your entire 30-year
career and never fire your weapon once.' Most police do that. It's very rare
to become involved in a shooting situation. And on the fourth day, I was
involved in mine. I had heard from my father about his incident. He had
several incidents and he said that he had nightmares. For years after that,
he saw his victim's face in his dream asking him why he did it.

And when I had--when I was involved in my shooting, the only thing I
thought--well, I sat there--I stood there watching this man's blood drain down
the sidewalk. It was raining and the blood was just kind of fading into this
pastel wash. This is a man that I killed. He's dead at my hands. And the
only thing I could think of was my kids are at home waiting for me. Every
night they would ask me, `Mommy, what did you do today that was exciting?,'
you know. `What exciting police things did you do?' And the only thing I
could think was that that night I would be able to say, `I got to come home to

GROSS: Did you use your gun again after that?

Ms. GALLO: Yes.

GROSS: Often?

Ms. GALLO: No.

GROSS: And did the feelings change, you know...

Ms. GALLO: No.

GROSS: ...when you shot someone afterwards?

Ms. GALLO: No.

GROSS: You also saw many victims of shootings and you write you learned what
it's like to cradle the head of a gunshot victim as you try in vain to stench
the blood, knowing you're the last person he'll see and feel and that you're
the only one who will witness his passage from this life. It must be really
strange to have such an intimate moment with a stranger to watch--you know, to
watch--to share that moment with a stranger, as he dies.

Ms. GALLO: It's a very unusual situation to be in because you have become not
just the enforcer. As a cop, you're not just the enforcer, but you're the
protector and the caregiver. So while you're protecting the public, you're
also their safeguard. You're protecting them from these evils. And if, in
fact, here's a victim that you weren't able to protect; that you didn't get to
in time; that you were deficient in your duties and, as a result, now they're
dying, then suddenly you revert to the caretaker and caregiver again and you
hold them and you watch them die and not only are you thinking that this is
the last person that they'll see; I am the last face that they will take with
them after it's over--not only are you thinking that, but you're also thinking
I may be the reason for this, because I didn't get here in time; because I
wasn't able to help. And that's something that you carry with you and that's
one of the things that changes you and begins the change in how you relate to
other people and how you think of yourself.

GROSS: Well, Gina Gallo, I want to thank you a lot for talking with us.

Ms. GALLO: Thank you so much. I really enjoyed this.

GROSS: Gina Gallo's new memoir about her 16 years on the Chicago police force
is called "Armed & Dangerous."

Coming up, Geoff Nunberg on the word like, from hipsters of the '50s to
teen-agers today. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Commentary: Linguist Geoff Nunberg talks about the use of the
word `like'

People who care about language tend to look down on teen-agers for constantly
using the word like. Our linguist, Geoff Nunberg, isn't so dismissive.


I had been thinking about the word like, so I was on the lookout for it in all
the press interviews with students after the school shootings near San Diego
last week. Understandably, most of them were struggling to put their thoughts
in words and their speech was punctuated by `ums' and `ers' and `you knows,'
but of the dozen students that I listened to, not one used the word like.
Nobody said, `Like, they were yelling at us to leave' or `So I was, like,
let's get out of here.' There's no question that all these kids used `like'
that way in their ordinary conversation. You'd be hard pressed to find a
dozen adolescents in the whole country who don't.

But whatever critics and teachers may think, it's more than just an
unconscious tick or a filler than people stick in while they're vamping for
time. It's a word with a point of view and speakers can shut it down when
that isn't what they want to convey.

Like a lot of contemporary sensibilities, this one got its start with the
hipsters of the '50s who originated that use of like. In their mouths, like
wasn't a sign of inarticulateness the way people would come to think of it
later. Nobody ever accused the hipsters of being at a loss for words, even if
it wasn't always easy to know what they meant. But the word contributed to
the sense of a language that didn't actually mean anything so much as it
evoked the way a jazz riff does. It turned everything the hipsters said into
a kind of extended simile, as if to say, `I, like, gotta use words when I talk
to you.'

Mainstream Americans didn't learn that kind of talk from the hipsters,
themselves. They got it from TV and radio programs that diffused the lingo in
a diluted form. Deejays like Wolfman Jack and Philadelphia's Hi Lit(ph)
lifted their patter from the hipster comic Lord Buckley, who also originated
the shtick that Steve Allen worked over in his "Bopster Fairytales(ph)." Sid
Caesar had a bopster character called Progress Hornsby and Lenny Bruce did a
much more dead-on routine in the persona of jazz musician Shorty Peterstein.
And then there was Maynard G. Krebs, the goateed beatnik wanna-be that Bob
Denver played on the late-50s TV show "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis." Krebs
was given to saying things on the order of, `Like, wow. That is, like,
really, like, cool.'

To a lot of adults, that was pretty much the way all teen-agers were starting
to sound. In short measure, critics made like the symptom of an alarming
decline in communications skills among the nation's young people. That single
word seemed to embody all the pernicious influences at work in the culture:
lax standards, television, poor manners and a spreading mindlessness. And
it's true that the teen-agers who picked up on like seemed to use it
indiscriminately. But there was method in it. One way or another, like lays
a certain distance between speakers and their words. Sometimes it can soften
a request, as in, `Could I, like, borrow your sweater?' Sometimes it
communicates disaffection. `What are we supposed to, like, read this?' Or
you can use it to nod ironically at the banality of your words, as in, `Do you
suppose we could, like, talk about it?' That's one use of the word that just
about everybody has picked up on. I even use it in e-mail.

However like is used, though, you can still hear the faint echoes of the
hipster in that sense of the limits of description. That might explain why
young people in the '80s started to use the word as what linguists call a
quotative marker, as in, `I was, like, that is so uncool.' That construction
first came to national attention in 1982 when Moon Unit Zappa used it in her
song "Valley Girl." And it was quickly stereotyped as adolescent female
speech, though, in fact, boys probably use it as much as girls do. Not
surprisingly, this set in motion another wave of denunciations from critics
who wondered why teen-agers couldn't say, `I said,' instead of, `I was, like.'
But they aren't the same. What follows `I said' is a report of people's
words. What follows `I was, like' is a performance of their actions. That's
why `I was, like' is as apt to be followed by a noise or gesture as by a
sentence. Say is for telling; like is for showing.

It's no wonder like has become one of the linguistic emblems of the age.
There's no other single word that embodies all the sensibilities that have
been converging in the language since the hipsters first made their
appearance. The ironizing, the mistrustive description and the way we look to
drama and simulation to do the work that used to be done by narrative. As the
critic Raymond Williams once put it, `We have never, as a society, acted so
much or watched so many others acting.'

In the midst of all that theatricality, it's a little silly to get all huffy
when the language comes up with a new construction to set the scene for our
dramatizings. And anyway, language doesn't determine our mindset nearly as
much as people like to think it does. When those kids in San Diego were faced
with talking about the school shootings, they had no use for like or the
distance it would have interposed between them and their words. They know as
well as anybody that there are times when you have to throw yourself back on
narrative to make sense of things.

GROSS: Geoff Nunberg is a linguist at Stanford University and the Xerox Palo
Alto Research Center.


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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