CHAPTER ONE: SIGNS
“You will find somewhere there’s a house, and inside that house there’s a room…
Locked in the room in the corner you’ll see, the voice is waiting for me, to set it free…
And I’ve got the key…
I’ve got the key…”
(Russ Ballard - VOICES)
There is a door to a bedroom in a townhouse in Crofton, Maryland. 1732 Aberdeen Circle. Second floor. Front bedroom. I walk through that door every single day of my life. At least once a day. Sometimes more. But what happened inside that room in June of 1986 shattered my life into a thousand tiny, jagged shards of glass. I have been trying to put those pieces back together ever since. But the pieces just won’t fit.
I didn’t always want to be a cop. For a long, long time I wanted to be a professional actor. From the earliest age that I can remember, whenever someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, my patented response was always the same: “An actor.” I would announce it like it was a living, breathing thing. Films, music and television…that was a huge part of my childhood. They still are. I still love movies. I still love music. I taught myself to play the drums by watching and playing along to Genesis and Phil Collins concert videos. Not on actual drums, mind you. I did not get my first - and only - drum set until I was eighteen. No, I taught myself to play by banging away on pillows with butter knives. Got quite good if I do say so myself. As for films, I have covered the walls of one room in our house with nothing but framed original movie posters. Braveheart, Die Hard, Payback, JFK, Heat, Carlito’s Way, Road To Perdition, Nobody’s Fool, The Shawshank Redemption - these are just a few of the images that hang on the walls of my basement sanctuary. Along with those drums, a pool table, big screen TV and other forms of relaxation. And for a long, long time, I planned to have my own movie posters up on those walls along with the others. A part of me still does.
I acted in every high school play that came along, and did a few plays in college. I even toured with my college traveling Shakespeare company for a summer. I lived in Los Angeles for a time in the summer of 1995. I even had a small speaking part in a film that was shot in L.A. that summer. Ironically, I played a cop. I was an extra in the television series Homicide: Life on the Street three times…once playing a Naval Midshipman, once a New Year’s Eve party-goer, and once a firefighter. You can still see me as a firefighter in an episode titled “Valentines Day”, but only if you glue your eyelids open and never blink ‘cause you’ll miss it if you do. That’s me walking into the room behind Kyle Secore after a mad bomber had blown a lawyer’s office apart. The episode also guest starred Neil Patrick Harris…yeah, Doogie Howser. I never met Doogie personally, but Kyle Secore and Clark Johnson are simply great guys. And Andre Braugher is such a powerful and polite man that I felt almost dwarfed in his presence. Reed Diamond, on the other hand, was as much of a dick in person as his character was in the show. And recently, I appeared as a Baltimore City Police Major in the final season of The Wire. No lines, but you can’t miss my fat face in the opening scene of Episode Eight.
So, from the time I was a child, I was either watching television and movies, or pretending to be in them. And for some reason, that would not become clear to me until much later in life, cop shows played a big part in my television watching experience. The signs have always been there, but it took many years for the realization to hit me: I have always been meant to do this job. How could I have missed the signs for so long? It all started in 1984 with a television show called Miami Vice.
Miami Vice had a huge impact on me as a kid, and I still consider it one of the best television shows ever produced. I started watching Vice in its first season, but I honestly cannot remember which episode was the first I ever saw. (Not the case with the show NYPD Blue, however. I can remember living in Los Angeles in the summer of ’95 in a house that had no air conditioning and even less room to live comfortably. I was up one Tuesday night and I was bored. At the time, I had a minimum wage job as an Assistant Manager at the Eddie Bauer clothing store nearby, and I had the night off. I flipped channels on the television until I came across an episode of NYPD Blue. This was the episode where Jimmy Smitts as Detective Bobby Simone shoots an armed gunman in an apartment in order to save the life of his partner, Detective Andy Sipowicz, played by Dennis Franz. I was hooked into the show from then on. I would later learn that this episode came from the second season, just after its original star, David Caruso had decided to quit playing Detective John Clark. Mistake.)
But back to Vice. As a kid in 1984 and ’85, Miami Vice became my entire existence. I watched it every Friday night. I collected every scrap of paper that had anything to do with the show…every newspaper article, every magazine clipping and cover, everything. I bought posters and the soundtrack - anything that I could get my hands on. It was the coolest show I had ever seen. It redefined what “cool” meant to an entire society. I am sure there are those of you reading this that will remember with some amusement men going sock-less and not shaving for days on end just to cultivate that Sonny Crockett five o’clock shadow look. I must admit that at the age of fifteen, I myself even had the famous white jacket and pants outfit with a pastel blue shirt and white Espadrille shoes, although I honestly cannot remember ever wearing it… except for one Halloween. And I am sure that if I had been able to, I would have grown my own shadow. I wanted to be Sonny Crockett. Little did I know I would get my chance someday. Sort of.
As the show progressed, my fascination with it grew as well. Everything about the show changed the way I looked at television. It was the first show that I really paid attention to. The look of the scenery, the sound of the music, the dialogue…everything. It was, to me, how shows should be made. Every episode was like a one hour mini movie. And most of them were outstanding in their story lines. Especially the entire “Calderone Saga” that started with the premiere two hour episode and continued through four more episodes spread out over the first four seasons. Nowhere in television or movies does there exist a better scene that exemplifies what Miami Vice was all about than the “Voices” scene from the fourth episode of the first season. The episode is alternately known as “Calderone’s Return Part II” and “Calderone’s Demise” and this was the episode where the series really found it’s groove. The entire series changed pace starting with this episode. Crockett and Tubbs have learned that their nemesis Calderone, a Columbian drug lord that earlier ordered the death of Tubbs’s brother Rafael in New York; an execution that Tubbs himself witnessed, and the death of Crockett’s partner played by a young Jimmy Smitts; is hiding out in the Bahamas. The episode begins with a tough interrogation followed by a sorrowful boat ride in Crockett’s cigarette boat to the island to find Calderone. During the boat ride, the song “Voices” by Russ Ballard plays over the scene. We see Tubbs remembering the death of his brother (a montage used frequently during the show’s five season run) and we see the two partners speeding across the ocean to the island only sixty miles away. To me, there has never been a scene so powerful as this. To this day, it is my favorite Miami Vice scene. It is this scene which I “relive” almost every day. I see it in my mind just as clearly as I do the scene in which I - as a fourteen-year-old boy - walk lonely and scared through that door…
In later years, I would begin a crusade to collect every episode on VHS tape, which I finally did via reruns on the USA network and by way of the FX network. That is how I came across this episode. I never saw it during its original run, but I have it now. I am proud to say that I now have every episode from all five seasons on DVD. Not to mention some of the old collectables that I had from my childhood, and some that I purchased through eBay. These include every TV Guide that featured the show on the cover, along with several magazines and even three plastic build-it-yourself models that I had put together and painted for me. I know it seems extremely silly to read this now, but I cherish these items from my childhood because they represent a time of great enjoyment as well as great sorrow. As I said, my enthusiasm for the show grew with each passing season. I even stuck with it in the third season when the look of the show took a decidedly left turn. Gone were the pastels that had made the show so revolutionary. Now the look was darker and more brooding. But interestingly, my life at that time became infinitely darker and more brooding as well. It was another sign.
On 21 June 1986, I walked through a door to a bedroom in a townhouse in Crofton, Maryland. 1732 Aberdeen Circle. Second floor. Front bedroom. I walk through that door every single day of my life. At least once a day. Sometimes more. But what happened inside that room in June of 1986 shattered my life into a thousand tiny, jagged shards of glass. I have been trying to put those pieces back together ever since. But the pieces just won’t fit.