He Carries a Badge

It was 7:30 Monday morning.  It was damp and it was foggy, just like it seems to be every Monday morning in San Francisco.  Some of us have to work regardless of what the weather is doing or how it makes us feel.  Me, I carry a badge and I serve and protect the people of San Francisco.

“Morning, Frank.”  It was my boss coming around the corner.  Fortunately I work the streets so I don’t have to deal with him much.  Nothing against him, I just have a problem with authority.  I guess that’s why I became a cop.  I didn’t like what I saw; the boss was not alone.  The guy trailing him looked young – mid-twenties.  He was wearing a cheap suit.  It was new, but it was cheap.  He’d either just gotten out of prison, or…

“Frank, I want you to meet Dennis, your new partner,” he said.  Dennis extended his right hand and gave me a big smile.

“Let me guess,” I said without extending my own hand.  “U.C. Berkley.”  He awkwardly let his own hand drop to his side desperately trying to look as casual as he could.  He didn’t pull it off.  He opened his mouth to answer and when nothing came out he just nodded.  I sighed, turned and walked toward the door.

“Don’t just stand there,” the boss said, “follow him.”  Like a little puppy he chased after me.  At least most Berkley grads are house trained.  I walked up to my unmarked car.  Unmarked, hell.  Who else but plainclothes police drive fuel efficient hybrid cars with rows of extra lights mounted in the rear window?  Dennis went over to the passenger side and tried the handle, which was locked.  I made sure he could see my look of disdain as I pressed “unlock” on the remote.  He got in and I backed out of the parking spot.

“I hear you’re hard on partners,” he began.

“You heard right,” I replied, then added.  “Of course it’s not a fair statement since none of them stick around very long.”

“Why’s that?”

 I slammed on the brakes. 

“Look, kid,” I answered as “It’s a rough world out there and nobody likes us.  Some guys opt for uniformed patrol or homicide; some work vice.  Damned few can take the heat we get in the Politically Correct Police.  I could hear him gulp.  I turned left and hadn’t gone three blocks before I saw our first problem.

“Hit it!” I told the new kid.  He at least knew how to turn on the lights and siren.  I followed the Chevy into the driveway.  Leaving the lights flashing, I opened my door, unsnapped my holster and put my hand on the grip of my 9 mm.  The woman in the car was staring straight ahead, although I had seen the backup lights flashed as she put her car into park.

“Put down the cellphone and get out of the car,” I barked.  “Leave the coffee cup in the holder and set the makeup down on the seat.”  She nervously complied.   “Is this your house?” I asked.  She nodded agreement.  “Are you Italian?” I continued.

“On my mother’s side, yes, she replied.

“Lady, I don’t care if you put on talk on your cellphone while driving, or if you drink your Grande Mocha Java half-caf half-decaf with extra low fat whip cream, or even if you’re applying your mascara.  However, you need to return at least one hand to the steering wheel occasionally.  You were so busy gesticulating that neither hand was anywhere near the steering wheel.

“I’m sorry officer, it won’t happen again.”  She had nice legs, so I decided to let her off with the warning.  “That your recycling bin?”  Again she nodded.

“You’ve got some cottage cheese containers in there.  City only does plastics numbered 1 or 2 – that’s a 5.  And lose the plastic grocery bags – they mess up the sorting machinery at the recycling center.”  Without looking back I re-entered my police vehicle and drove away.  Dennis didn’t say much; it takes a while for the new guys to get used to the steamy underbelly of the bay area.  As we continued on, the radio crackled. 

“Report of inappropriate instruction at St. Jerome’s Grade School.  Third grade.  Room 311.”  Dennis started to reach for the dashboard.

“No,” I told him.  “We go in quiet for this one.”  Rookies.

St. Jerome’s had been around since my grandparents learned to read.  Generally it was okay, but it’s surprising how even the most innocent of places can brew trouble.  As we walked in I flashed my badge to the hall monitor.  Room 311 was not too far down the hall.  I walked in without knocking.

I looked around, and immediately saw it.  Dennis was clueless.  That’s okay, he’ll learn.

“Everybody please sit,” I commanded.  I turned to Dennis.  “You got the door.”  The nun sat at the desk at the front of the room.  There was a small nameplate that read “Sister Mary Agnes.”  I knew that wasn’t her real name.  Nuns always change their name when they take their vows.  I pointed to the book sitting next to her right elbow.

“Is that yours?”

“It most certainly is,” she replied unapologetically.  “I’ve had it for years.  It was a gift from my father when I was a little girl.”

“Must be hard to remember your father as a terrorist,” I offered without apology.  She just stared at me.  “Did you read it to them?”  I looked at the kids in their seats and it was obvious she did.  I picked up the book.

“Sorry kids, but this is forbidden.  If this guy was alive today he’d be in big trouble.  Maybe he didn’t blow things up but he did far worse.  We’re not talking about littering, here or even pollution – we’re talking eco-terrorism. 

“Introducing flora outside its native area is harmful.  Non-native organisms disrupt the natural ecosystem.  You’ve read about jumping catfish taking over whole lakes?  You know about zebra mussels?  Alligators in the New York sewer system?  It’s the same thing.  It’s wrong and it’s wrong to teach about it.

“If you’re not an environmental expert, you’d best just leave plants and animals where they are.  Better yet, don’t mess with them at all.  Am I clear?”  Thirty one heads silently nodded assent.  I started for the door with the book.

“C’mon, Dennis,”  I said as we headed out of the classroom.  I showed him the book – Johnny Appleseed.

Copyright 2011 SF Nowak – All Rights Reserved

2 responses to “He Carries a Badge

  1. Delightful!! Just what I needed today.

  2. What a gorgeous, fascinating, and insightful scenario…one to give us pause for not only introspection, thought, and perhaps peace. And, if we wish, we can place blame and shame.

    On deeper level, this scenario goes beyond “politically correct,” to what I describe as persons who are “graduated” but not “educated.” It’s about the cognitive process—thinking and thought—and authorship and readership.

    For example, how many of yesterday’s literary heroes will weather the vicissitudes of time? If a story not written is a form of authorial suicide, can we surmise, then, a book not read is a form of authorial homicide?

    The “badge” in this scenario is a symbol for us. When is the last time we asked ourselves why we read? And, more importantly, when is the last time we—as parents, as adults, as citizens—have explained to our youth why they should read?

    Reading a book is like rewriting it for ourselves–we bring to it anything we read, all our experience, our history, and we read it on our own terms, however we’d like to live it.

    Life is like a good book: The further we get into it, the more it begins to make sense.

    The primary object of a student of literature is to be delighted, enjoy oneself, develop one’s faculty of appreciation.

    Persons who know how to read have the power to magnify themselves, to multiply the ways in which they exist–to make life full, significant and interesting.

    The way a book is read—which is to say, the qualities a reader brings to a book—can have as much to do with its worth as anything the author puts into it. Anyone who can read can learn to read deeply and thus live more fully.

    We plant merit with our minds, and we commit crimes with our minds. With our minds, we imprint images, like artists. It can draw anything, and what we draw is “realized”—made real. If we surrender our ideas, thoughts, impressions–at the moment they arise without imprinting them on our mind, our minds will not be tainted, just as the lotus flower is not tainted by the muddy water whence it grows.

    Hence Johnny Appleseed.

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