‘Unless you have a gun’

I typically spend the hour from 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. every morning eating toast with peanut butter, sipping coffee and flipping through a few channels on TV.
I usually pop back and forth between the local morning news on WBRE and sports center on ESPN, but every now and then I will go to the Sundance channel where I might catch part of an episode of Barney Miller, Andy Griffith or All in the Family. Tuesday morning it was Barney Miller. And it proved somewhat timely.
Barney fans appreciate why I do this. For those not familiar with the show, it was a sitcom about a New York City detective precinct that ran from the late ’70s to the early ’80s. Hal Linden played chief detective Barney Miller but the whole cast was superb. Great writing and great acting.
On Tuesday I joined the show as Detective Fish (Abe Vigoda) overheard a middle-aged couple, who had apparently been arrested, blame each other for not following through with a suicide pact. “If we did it,” the wife says, “we would have spared ourselves this embarrassment.”
Their discussion sends Fish into a disturbing reverie about the whole notion of suicide. You could tell he was having an existential crisis.
Detective Dietrich (played with a perfect deadpan style by Steve Landesberg) senses Fish is distraught and comes over to “help.” Dietrich, for the record, knows everything about everything and is only too glad to share it.
“Tell me,” Fish asks, “have you ever contemplated suicide?”
“Statistics show,” Dietrick says, “that every human at some point in his or her life considers suicide. But the feeling only lasts for a second or two. It’s perfectly normal.”
“Then it’s safe to have such thoughts,” Fish responds seeming at least a little reassured.
“Of course,” Dietrick answers. “Unless you happen to have a gun.”
He glances at the weapon holstered on Fish’s hip and walks away.
When you toss a gun into the mix and everything changes.

Ed Ackerman