His friends called him Mikey. His loyal subjects called him the Godfather. Mike Morris, former Lodi Police Department officer and dispatcher, former investigator for the District Attorney's office, and my police academy classmate, passed away a few weeks ago after a valiant battle against cancer.
Mike was a fine officer who spent almost 30 years serving the citizens of this city and county. But there was much more to him than just a big man in a blue uniform wearing badge No. 82.
Mike was a man of conviction, but he couldn't spell a lick. On our first day of the academy, we were given the task of completing a memo simply listing the names of our three training officers. Mike handed his memo to me, and I noticed he'd listed Sgt. Randy "Crumsack" as one of the RTO's. The sergeant's name was actually Grasmuck. Not only was the name misspelled, but it sounded bad too.
I pointed out the error and passed the memo back to him.
He gave it back and said, "Turn it in."
I replied, "It's Grasmuck, not Crumsack. I think he might take that as an insult."
He handed it back to me and said coldly, "I wrote what I wrote." I'd never met the guy before and figured he had some sort of academic death wish. I turned it in, and of course he got in trouble.
One of the RTO's wrote in Mike's final academy evaluation that he would "always have the tendency to be fat." Mike smiled when he showed it to me. What the RTO did not know was that Mike was actually a gifted athlete. He was an All-American baseball player at San Francisco State. He could make a three-point shot in basketball with little effort. His effortless swing deposited many a softball into the parking lot at the complex. He also left tobacco juice on our shoes as a reminder that he was king of the diamond.
He was the best golfer in the department by far. Some people would take five minutes to address the ball before teeing off, waggling the club, adjusting themselves in various places, checking the wind, moving blades of grass. Mike would simply take one practice swing, walk up to the ball, blast the "dimpled spheroid," as he called it, 300 yards straight down the middle of the fairway, and walk off. Every time.
He wrote amusing poems and stories that amazed us with their creativity and originality. He loved cats and those God-awful baggy zebra-striped Zubaz pants. He craved "fried dough products" and knew every line from films dating back to the '40s. He could make the creepy "Predator" sound from the old Schwarzenegger movie so well that you'd turn around, half-expecting the creature to be standing there, poised to make a trophy out of you. He was a Rams fan floating alone in a sea full of 49er faithfuls.
The dusty chalkboard in the basement of the old police station was his canvas. He would spend hours after work drawing cartoons based on situations on the street or within the organization. People actually took pictures of his drawings to keep for themselves. He was sort of like Charles Schultz with a pinch of Skoal tucked in his bottom lip.
He called graveyard "the shift of kings." He liked the freedom, the hours, and the lack of adult supervision. He would drive around Downtown late at night, when the town was quiet, making whale sounds on his patrol car's P.A. system just to crack people up.
He also liked working nights because he was a dedicated father who stayed up all day after working graveyard just to be with his girls.
He could be a bit testy at the end of a long night, though. The dayshift briefing began at 7:30 a.m., and the room would be packed with officers, volunteers, detectives and supervisors ready to head out to the street. The back door would open and we'd hear the sound of an object rocketing down the hallway floor just outside the room. We'd look over and see Mike's brown briefcase sailing by at about 100 mph. That was his way of announcing to the world that his shift was over.
He was amusing, but he was also someone you could always depend on to do the right thing in a crisis. He was a brave man with broad shoulders, and he saved my bacon a few times over the years. He was loyal and, if he respected you, you had nothing to worry about.
Mike was also self-deprecating and humble, never hesitating to make himself the butt of the joke. He wanted a roast, not a funeral. That tells you a lot about the guy.
This column was not meant to cause tears or a lump in the throat. The Godfather would not approve of that, and you might end up on that old chalkboard in the basement. He cared deeply about his family and friends and the people of this town, and he would not want anyone to mourn him.
Mike was dedicated to the citizens of Lodi and the county. He was a fine officer and investigator. He was great dad. He was Mikey and the Godfather. He was my friend.