"Excuse me," he said, "but did you put this on my car?"
He was holding a goddamn parking ticket.
"Do I look like a traffic cop?" I shouted. "This is a detective's shield! We don't hand out parking tickets! We kick in doors!"
The man offered a flustered apology. Still, I had never been so insulted in my life. Imagine my response if I were a real detective. Some of those guys might actually kick in doors. My time is spent making really clever comments about film, music and television. Not to brag, but I recently did a fine job of putting Lori Petty in her place. I've never kicked in a door, though.
When hysterical women lock themselves in the bathroom, I usually see that as an opportunity to watch some decent television. n But I have the hat. A friend in a car saw me on the street back in October and invited me to come along to a mystery destination. This turned out to be a baseball cap company that was moving its massive warehouse. To make things easier, the manufacturers were clearing out their stock at
prices that were iiinsane. Everything was going for a dollar. There was good stuff, too. I picked up one cap that sports the proud logo of a Plumbers & Steamfitters Union in Tucson. Another cap advertises a strip joint in New Mexico.
It was all quality merchandise. There were also caps for the retail market, but they were all for the pothead demographic. In fact, my big find was buried beneath a bunch of hats declaring "100% Hemp." There was a simple blue cap with an embroidered gold badge. The lettering read "Jersey City Police Detective."
"Hmmm," I thought, "that's pretty cool." So I threw it in with my other purchases, half-expecting the guy in charge to explain that this particular cap wasn't available for sale. After all, this wasn't the kind of novelty item you find on St. Marks Pl. This was, by all appearances, the real thing.
Some of us keep forgetting the world is iiinsane. Not only did they sell it to me, they threw the thing in for free as my fifth purchase.
So I began proudly to sport my Jersey City Police Detective cap. The weather was getting cold, and the cap looked way cooler than my one with the "Roto-Rooter" logo.
It was about a week before I noticed things were getting weird. Many minor annoyances slowly became a thing of the past. Cab drivers took scrupulously direct routes. The prices at one local bodega went down by a quarter. There was no longer any bartering over certain gray-market purchases. And there weren't any more staring contests with the assorted vermin in my neighborhood. The creeps just moved out of my way. A few subway cars completely cleared out on my end.
Honestly, the whole was confusing at first. It took me a while to understand what had changed. I am, it seems, the law. If this were the 1940s, I could be pinching apples out of the bins of every corner grocer.
Of course, with a great cap comes great responsibility. I first realized this when strolling into another bodega. A muttering homeless person was wandering around and making people nervous. The guy behind the counter looked at me in a frankly pleading way. So I sauntered over and told the bum to beat it, or I was taking him in. The guy wasn't so crazy that he didn't head straight for the exit.
"Hmmm," I thought, "that's pretty cool." The next Saturday, I was at the subway station and noticed a typical lowlife eyeing the turnstile. This cretin was waiting for a train, but he wasn't planning to pull out his MetroCard. As part of my continued social experiment, I walked over to the guy.
"Hey," I told him, "go find yourself another station." He went scampering off like a cockroach. He didn't even notice that I'm representing Jersey City. Nobody does. A particularly streetwise associate told me that the particulars didn't matter. Any veteran lowlife wouldn't see anything more than a detective badge on display. From there, the sleazeballs project their worst fears. It's not even a matter of Jersey City or Manhattan. I've also been assumed to be a DEA agent. And the occasional traffic cop.
But the absolute weirdest moment was walking into an Italian restaurant in Long Island. All I wanted was to kill some time by having a drink. I couldn't help but notice that the lounge near the entrance featured some fine Sopranos stereotypes. Then I got to the main area, where the dames were straight out of the hairstyling scene in Married to the Mob. This place was seriously mobbed up. That's fine with me. It's part of the charm of Long Island.
So I sat at the bar, and got immediate service. I was having my drink, and three different guys from the restaurant came up to introduce themselves. All of them were a little too friendly. I eventually realized these people were making one of two assumptions: I'm either a cop on the take, or I'm a cop who's stopped by to check out the regulars. Either way, I was one step away from starring in my own direct-to-video thriller. Being neither friend nor foe, I decided to finish my drink before someone made the distinction for me. Except it wasn't very easy to leave. The bartender wouldn't take my money.
Now, it was the respect that I deserved. Imagine walking into a place like that while advertising you're a cop. They're probably still trying to figure out my angle.
Absolute fakery, however, eventually leads to a fair approximation of corruption, and the past few months haven't been without a few power-mad moments. This casual clout had to eventually collide into my phony-baloney job as cultural critic. This included vigilante justice and a return to my own worst instincts as a criminal.
I've done plenty of illegal things in my life. But there's only been one incident that could be considered a truly malicious act. In the late 80s, I was driving past one of Birmingham, AL's more popular shopping malls. There was a white Mercedes in front of me, and I vaguely noted a bleached-blonde woman at the wheel. I took stronger note when the woman tossed her empty cigarette pack out through the sunroof. Littering gets on my nerves, and it seemed especially repulsive for someone to be littering through an optional feature on a white Mercedes.
The lady pulled into the shopping mall. I decided to follow. This kind of impulsive behavior is vital for all future cops on the edge. It was a Saturday, and the mall was fairly full. There was no space in the indoor parking deck, and the woman had to leave her car parked outside of one of the anchor stores. It was summer in Alabama, which put things at an uncomfortable 85 degrees. I sat there in my own parking space, chewing my gum and wondering what to do. This was during a big Bubble Yum phase. The sun beat down upon my car, and my brain slowly made the connection. I chewed my entire pack of Bubble Yum, and then spit out my gum onto the hood of the white Mercedes. It wouldn't take five minutes for the sun to do its worst.
The blonde, naturally, would come out and have no idea why this gum had been visited upon her. She would just wonder how anybody could be so thoughtless. It seemed like appropriate punishment for an oblivious action.
Nowadays, I'm more of a Rain-Blo man. I need about two packages of those gumballs to get through a three-hour epic like Magnolia. It's a grand film, but sitting through that many reels requires some kind of nervous indulgence. Especially when you've missed all the advance screenings and have to attend a regular showing to write a review timed for the film's national release date.
So I was sitting in a theater on the Upper East Side, this time behind a bleached-blond male. He wasn't throwing out cigarette packs, he was throwing out a never-ending stream of clever bon mots designed to let us know that he's officially hip enough to see the film. It was very important for his fellow moviegoers to appreciate his keen insights. "That's so fucked," he exclaimed as one character finished a misogynistic rant. You know, we must regularly express our disgust at fictional characters. People might otherwise find us uncool.
Mr. Blond also made sure that everyone understood he found things much funnier than we mere mortals in the audience. There were so many levels to the irony of normal people engaging in their normal daily routines. Each level required a separate pitch of laughter. If no one else was laughing, then they simply didn't appreciate the vision of the director.
Now, I'm just a normal law-enforcement officer. I'm not with some kind of special forces. But it occurred to me that I would've been neglectful in my duties not to have taken some kind of action. At the very least, this was disturbing the peace. They might allow this kind of behavior at the Angelika, but we were in a theater that doesn't serve muffins. My citizenry deserved better treatment.
The movie was only about an hour old when the guy had to loudly get up from his chair to go to the bathroom. Or snort some more cocaine, or do whatever it was that made him so irritating. I respect the badge, but there are times that are not served by due process. This seemed like an occasion more suited to my criminal past. I quickly worked through the lime, grape and cherry gumballs. My work was nicely waiting in his seat by the time he came back. There were still two hours to go in the film, and he'd keep making his stupid remarks. Somehow, it all seemed tolerable with the knowledge that he'd also be spending that time warming his seat with his wool plaid pants.
But my sense of accomplishment was short-lived. I settled back in my seat just as someone behind me muttered, "American Beauty understood men better." In the immortal words of Roddy Piper, I had come to kick ass and chew bubblegum. And I was now all out of bubblegum.
Them's the wages of trying to police the world. It's time to acknowledge that?like Justin Volpe?my actions that night were wrong. People shouldn't be punished merely for being repulsive. There are too many repulsive people to even make the effort feasible. I should have settled for making bums put out their cigarettes on subway platforms.
It may very well be time to turn in the badge. All this merry role-playing could eventually get my brains splattered all over my shiny new cap. There's really only one more moment that I'd like to experience. I'll give all this up the moment that some outraged loser asks me for my badge number. I've got your badge number right here: #714, and dum-da-dum-dum.