The other morning, as I was escorting my twins to kindergarten, a friend started chatting up the cop who was acting as the crossing guard.
“How do you know him so well?” I asked.
“He almost gave me a ticket the other day,” she said with a wink.
Clearly, she'd charmed the pants off the officer—something I’ve never quite learned to do.
My relationship with law enforcement has always been a bit more contentious than that and began, as it does for many people, in adolescence. A fresh driver’s license scalding my pocket, I carted a station wagon full of friends to the movies and turned the wrong direction down a one-way street. In order to rectify my mistake, I executed an ample U-turn, bumping my mother’s boat-sized vehicle (which bore the vanity plate “MOUTH”) onto the sidewalk in front of the theater. Startled moviegoers scattered from the cinema’s picture window, afraid the behemoth was going to crash through; my friends squealed in terror in the backseat. “What were you thinking?” I recall the officer, who pulled me over about a block later, demanding.
Unfortunately, my driving did not improve much in the intervening years. Nor did my luck with the cops. This may be why, when I was moving out of New York City in my early 20s and had double-parked in front of my apartment building, I found myself in another unpleasant situation with those gentlemen in blue. As I hobbled out the front door lugging a futon, I spied an officer depositing a citation on my windshield. I dumped the mattress on the sidewalk and dove at the cop car.
“Why’d you give me a ticket?” I cried.
“You’re double-parked, ma’am.”
“I’m moving,” I griped. “What am I supposed to do?”
“Not my problem,” said the officer, steering away.
I blame the fact that I was trying to fit the contents of an entire apartment into an Acura sedan on a 90-degree day for my swift and utter loss of self-control. “F—k you!” I screamed after the police car. The vehicle screeched in reverse.
“What did you say?” the cop demanded.
“I don’t know what you mean,” I answered. I had regained my senses just as suddenly as I had lost them and had decided that the best course of action was to lie.
“You know what you f—king said,” he hollered. “You f—king watch your mouth.”
I didn’t. Nor did I pay the ticket, which is why I started to fret when I saw lights flashing in my rearview mirror, about a year later in Manhattan, as I was driving north on Third Avenue to visit friends. A taxi had cut me off, and I had honked, long and loud.
“I don’t know what the laws are where you come from,” the officer said when he pulled me over, “but here you can get a ticket for excessive use of your horn.”
“It wasn’t excessive use of my horn,” I couldn’t help but reply. “That cab nearly took off my bumper!”
“Where are you going?”
“Why do you care?”
And so it went. I don’t think I ever paid that ticket either. But while I still haven’t mastered the art of charming the cops, I did realize the other day, when a Philadelphia police officer stopped me near my home, that I may, at least, be learning to bite my tongue.
“You do know it’s illegal to use your cell phone while driving in the city,” the cop said when I rolled down my window.
“I wasn’t using my phone,” I answered.
What I really wanted to say was that I had been cleaning wax out of my ear, a perfectly self-respecting and legal occupation the last time I checked, and that didn’t he have anything better to do with his time than pull me over, like perhaps catch the lowlifes who’d been littering City Line Avenue with their glassine baggies. For once, however, I kept my mouth shut.
Blushing and apologizing, the officer let me go. I actually felt so embarrassed for him that I almost made a false confession. But then again, I didn’t feel that bad. After all, I reasoned, I had given him the generous gift—even if he didn’t know it—of sparing him my thoughts.