Saturday, June 20, 2009

On Policing

Major issues are complicated. Take obesity, for example. My first gold stars of the day went to a mother whose son is in the second grade with my son at school and to the boy. She had brought him in to the YMCA, out of school for a physical, to learn more about the Y's Strong Kids program and how it might help her keep him active and fit. She and I spoke about the program and its importance and, then, about the tragic death of another second grader's father, a morbidly obese man who had just died suddenly at 34.

There was a controversy swirling over the fact that the bereaved family, when asked where they would like the school to donate money collected for them, chose a local pizza parlor where they were likely to spend a lot over their period of mourning, where they ate often. The child of the man who'd passed away suddenly was himself obese. I have helped coax him many times into pool during second grade swim, helped encourage him to move his solid, hulking frame through the pool. He is buoyant and strong, athletic in his moves when he gets up the energy to make them. I can't make him move his body, just like I can't change his diet at home. No one can. Do we not give them the pizza they asked for because we don't believe it's the right thing for them longterm? Do we send them a fruit basket that won't get eaten? A gift certificate for Fresh Direct? No. We give them what they asked for. We cannot make people's choices for them. We do not live in a police state.

Which brings me to my second gold star of the day. Rushing from the gym to move my car in time for street cleaning, I came three minutes too late and a young traffic cop was already writing out the ticket.

"Please," I said, running up breathlessly, "I'm here..."

He barely looked up and, trying to hide the smile I saw emerge on his lips, he said, "It's already been scanned. Had you been here before I scanned it...but it's too late."

"Ok," I said, taking the ticket, "I know you're just doing your job." I thought about giving him a gold star, but I think it would be considered bribery or something. It just seems untoward.

I got into my car so distraught. The day before, I had handled a flat tire with aplomb, so too getting caught in the pouring rain as I rushed to provide hot dogs for a class picnic moved indoors, baking a bunch of things for an evening fundraiser at the school. But this unglued me, this stupid $45 ticket. I take tickets as a bad sign. Universally and literally, I wasn't where I was supposed to be. In my upset, as I often do, I headed to Green-Wood Cemetary, a beautiful, magical place that often helps me put it all into perspective.

I drove through the castle-like entrance and down and around the tomb-covered hills to a beautiful rippling pond filled with geese. I parked the car and got out, sitting on a bench contemplating life and death and writing in my journal. I started to fall asleep, dragging my pen across the page, so I shut my notebook and decided to take a quick rest on the grass. I promptly fell fast asleep and woke with a start only after the Cemetary Security man pulled up and yelled out to me.

"What are you doing?"

I jumped up out of my sleep of the dead and apologized immediately. "Sorry," I said, "Am I not allowed to be here?"

"You are," he said, "but just not like that." Not sleeping on the grass, I guess.

I walked toward his truck, still in a sleepy daze. He smiled. "Didn't mean you had to jump up so fast..." he said sympathetically.

"No problem. I have to get going anyway," I said.

"What are you doing here?"

"Just writing and thinking," I said. "I love this place."

"Is it your first time?" he asked.

"No, I've come before." I'd been here on other distraught days and brought my family for an amazing puppet show, had become a member actually, though clearly that didn't come with napping privileges. "I just got a ticket and was so mad."

He nodded, understanding. "I'm a retired cop," he said.

I saw my window of opportunity and seized it.

"How did you feel when you gave out a ticket?" I asked.

Without skipping a beat, he answered emphatically, "I loved it, especially when I gave them to pretty girls."

I laughed. I loved his honesty. He tried to back-pedal when I asked him why he liked to give them to pretty girls, to say he'd been joking, but he clearly wasn't. There was a reason. I got him to tell me, I prompted him.

"Why, because they tried to get out of it using their wiles?" I asked.

"Yeah," he said. "They'd be like, 'Oh, officer, please don't give me a ticket,' all sweet, unbuttoning their blouse a little and batting their eyes. And then, when I told them I was sorry, I had to give them a ticket, they would turn ugly, 'You mother fucker,' they'd say, 'I hate you pigs, cops suck.' Nice. I liked it, though. You'd always have to guess what someone would be like, and you weren't usually wrong."

Cool. He definitely deserved his gold star for his honesty, for confirming something I'd always suspected: you can't flirt with a cop. They're not stupid, they know insincerety when they see it, bribery in the form of a little breast. It's pathetic.

"Yeah," I said. "That's why I've never flirted my way out of a ticket. If I'm going to prostitute myself, it'll be for more than $45." I waved and went on my way, in a much better mood than when I'd arrived, my faith in humanity restored.

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