The Job by Steve Osborne, review by Bruce Jacobs
If you need to call a cop, Steve Osborne is the man you want to answer the call. A 20-year NYPD veteran, Osborne worked the streets putting bad guys away, drinking coffee and eating bagels with extra cream cheese, and reassuring gravely wounded victims and perps that everything was going to be okay--even when it clearly was not. The Job collects the often funny, occasionally sobering and always entertaining stories of his life as a proud member of the oldest police force in the United States. The son of a tough cop father, Osborne grew up in a lunch-pail neighborhood of Jersey City, N.J., where "drinking beer and beating the crap out of each other were everyone's favorite pastimes." As a kid, he sat with his father and his cop buddies in Pete's Tavern, hearing stories and deciding that "these were the coolest guys in the world, real men, and I wanted to be one of them." Osborne not only followed in his father's professional footsteps, but also inherited his father's storytelling genes. After retirement, his tales of cop life found their way to NPR and then on to regular appearances on The Moth Radio Hour.
Beginning with his first collar on his first day on the streets, The Job follows Osborne's career as he moves from tame assignments in Midtown and a "boring" stint in Chinatown to the 9th Precinct on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. During the time he worked the midnight shift in the 9th, it was awash in drugs, crime and the jungle that was Tompkins Square Park after dark--a neighborhood where "dying of natural causes includes getting shot." However, Osborne's accounts of policing the 9th are not all rough-and-tumble guns and knives. He tells of a stakeout that snared a timid dentist rather than the armed bank-robber he resembled. An immigrant mother who loses both sons to drug violence touches him enough for him to break the rules and hand over her youngest son's mugshot for the small shrine in her apartment. When his little Brussels Griffon dog is run over and killed, the tough-guy Osborne breaks into tears. And then there is his story of September 11, 2001--the day that forever changed the world of every New York City cop.
Osborne was a cop who didn't hesitate to knock heads when needed, but he also thought of himself and his fellow police as shepherds: "We were guarding the flock, and keeping an eye out for the wolves." Told in a voice as unassuming as his blue-collar background, the stories in The Job are a refreshing reminder that civilized order rests on police like Steve Osborne "being there in people's lives during times of crisis, and knowing what to say and what to do."
Bruce Jacobs's review first appeared in Shelf Awareness.