Because mingling our sweat, half naked, in a small space reeking of warm bleach is societally acceptable, sharing intimacies with a stranger seemed alright. My curiosity, which I often blame on this column, led me to interview the gentleman who was sheltering his child from the sun with his hand as she leaned tenderly on his shoulder.
Theoretically, I think it is impolite to ask a stranger, “What do you do?” But since he asked me first, I was grateful for the excuse to do the same.
He told me he is a policeman in the City of Chicago.
I asked how that is going and this is what he told me, which I recorded with his permission. I laid my phone precariously on the lip of the hot tub:
“I am looking for a new profession. There are 200 carjackings a week in the City of Chicago and before I can even finish the paper work, all of the perpetrators are let go. Just last year at the beginning of the pandemic, in one weekend, right around this time of year, 18 people were murdered and about 50 were shot in a single day. Yes, there are a few ‘bad apples,’ but most of us are trying to connect with the youth and build good relationships. But the defund movement makes staying positive difficult. We can’t find good people. No one wants to be a cop now. I can’t do my job. In my opinion, there will be many more casualties if police are frightened on the job and act from fear.”
That was his opinion, not necessarily mine. But, I was open to his point of view because I am prejudiced. Had my bathing partner been white, I might have summarily picked myself up and left him to bake in the desert sun, but he was a black man, therefore I assumed he had more moral credibility. A cliché. “Assumptions make an ass out of you and me.” Now jackasses proliferate on all sides of the political spectrum. My progressive friends (virtually all my friends) ask me when I mention the heightened sense of outrage from both sides towards each other, “Are you trying to say there is moral equivalency between the right wing and the left?” No! But denying reality altogether on one side and simplifying extremely complex issues of the other, does not bring us closer to, have I the nerve to say it, LOVE.
For the most part, I have had very good experiences with local police. As I just wrote the previous sentence, I said to myself, “Of course you had good experiences. You are white!”
But then I remembered my recent encounter with a policeman at the beginning of Covid when my house was robbed. All the cash I acquired from selling paintings in two one-woman art shows that occurred over several years was stolen. I cried in front of the cop.
The policeman who responded stood in front of a screen door, complained about his mask, removed it and did not back up. Neither did I because I did not want to offend. An ancient genuflection to a white authority figure was still lurking somewhere inside my history. A surprise.
Ten months later, the same cop stopped me for driving through a red light. A miscalculation on my part, but a potentially dangerous traffic violation nevertheless. Upon seeing my driver’s license he said, “You! The columnist. My wife and I doodle on your column or use it for a placemat when we eat.”
I was incensed, but would not give him the satisfaction to show it. Eating your food off my column! A ketchup stain on my cherished ideas! How dare you!
Did I mention he was a white man, burly and I assumed not too bright? I am back in the rich green Hudson Valley springtime, walking miles every day along the trails, thinking. I think I am biased and rarely conscious of it. This morning I wished I had tried to start a dialogue with the guy who doodles on my column. I could have invited him to tell me what I wrote that caused him to have such a severe reaction. I may have learned something.