Monday, December 12, 2005

Don't Blame The Sweet and Tender Hooligan, Because She'll Never, Never Do It Again

I get weak whenever a police cruiser pulls up behind me. My legs go numb and I start running a mental checklist of things I could be pulled over for. Did I fully stop at that last stop sign? Am I going the speed limit? Are my lights in working order? Are there warrants out for my arrest? Have I run someone over and not realized it? Even though I've done nothing wrong, my guilty conscience kicks in big-time.

When I was growing up, outside of ghosts, I think one of my biggest fears was getting a ticket or being arrested. You can maybe see why: I have a dad, two grandfathers, an uncle, a cousin and an aunt who are or were in various branches of law. You'd think it would be just the opposite, that perhaps I'd think myself invincible with so many people around to get me out of a little jam. I'd go around breaking the law left and right, and if I were ever caught, I'd announce, "Do you know who my father is?"

But dad made sure we didn't grow up with that attitude and instead worked hard to instill a sense of respect with a heaping tablespoon of paranoia about the po-po. He'd remind us in not-so-subtle ways that if the cops were intent on catching a criminal, catch them they would. You can run, but you can't hide. And once you were caught, you would be shown no mercy. He occasionally took me on tours of the county jail, where on one visit, a prisoner barked at me. I'm pretty sure the message was, "Misbehave, and this guy is going to be your roommate."

On more than one occasion, he asked us kids who left a mess in the living room or kitchen. After we had all vigorously denied responsibility he'd calmly ask, "Are you going to make me dust for fingerprints?" We sputtered our confessions immediately.

He never had to resort to actual dusting, although I think we should have called his bluff just once, because I just don't believe he had a fingerprint dusting kit until years later in his work as a homicide detective, if he ever had one.

Growing up in perpetual fear of the police didn't exactly make me law-abiding in my teen years. I just knew that whatever I did, I had to take extra care not to get caught, because I had seen firsthand what happens to people who don't behave. And my parents wouldn't consider jail punishment enough, either. I could also say goodbye to the TV. At the time, I thought I was crafty, but it really was just dumb luck that I was never ticketed or arrested.

My dad's scare tactics worked even less on my brother, who for a stretch of several years was routinely pulled over. While the officer was looking at his registration and license, my brother would casually ask, "Oh. Hey! Do you happen to know my dad?"
"Who's your dad?"
My brother would tell him his name, and the officer would almost always say, "Oh, yes! Wow, he's a good guy! You must love having him as a father. It's great to meet his son! Well, forget the ticket, and tell him I said hello! Have a nice day."

This is just one more example of how my brother was born with the charming gene. If I tried that, I'd be sitting in the back of a police cruiser with a cop up front telling me that my dad sure must be disappointed at the way I turned out. Of course, the one person my brother had a little difficulty charming was dad, who eventually got wind of what he was doing and told everyone in the department that if they pulled my brother over, he was to be given a ticket. That put an end to that.

My lucky streak nearly came to a screeching halt one night at an all-ages club with Trish and Peter in college. They were both over 21, and I must have been 19 or 20 at the time. While I bitterly sipped my diet Coke, Trish and Peter knocked back Zimas. I asked Peter what Zima tasted like, expecting him to describe it to me, perhaps let me smell it. Instead, he held the bottle up to my mouth and poured. Before I had even finished the sip, a woman came over, shined a flashlight on us and snapped, "Let's see IDs."

She hauled Peter and I outside and left us shivering in the cold while she went to get a uniformed officer. I started to cry.
"Oh my God, Peter. I can't go to jail."
"You're not going to go to jail."
"No, I am. I got caught drinking! How am I going to tell my parents I'm in jail?"
"Relax. You're fine."
"You don't understand."

He rolled his eyes. It was a Friday night, and I began mentally going over my schedule for the next day. I had to go home, but I probably wouldn't be expected to show up until dinner, which would buy me most of the day to sit in jail.

"Peter, if we went to jail now, what time do you think we'd get out tomorrow?"
"We're not going to jail."

Fine. He's going to be sorry later that he didn't plan this all in advance, I thought. I was pretty sure I'd be out in time to get home, and no one would be the wiser. I'd deal with the other problem -- that word would probably get back to my dad that I had been in jail -- later.

Finally, an officer came over and had Peter and I recount the incident for him. Peter blamed the entire thing on himself and stressed that I really hadn't been given much of a choice about the drink. When we finished, he asked us if we knew what we had done was illegal. "Yes, sir! I know!" I said. He warned us not to do it again, and sent us back into the club. Peter told Trish about my histrionics and they had a big laugh at my expense.

But really, how stupid would that have been to be arrested for a crap drink like Zima?