‘Don’t Get Smart with the Cops’

cop noir IIMichelle Rick

It happened several weeks ago, during a hard day’s night.

There was the usual raucous disturbance in the street below, when the bars begin closing and their liquored-up patrons spill out all drunk and disorderly. The area in question, lower First Avenue, leads uptown from that gauntlet of traffic lights that intersects Houston. Nearby, police cars almost always lay in wait, not to regulate barflies, mind you, but to collar motorists for traffic violations.

Such was the case that very night: the siren’s wail drew me up to the window. The squad-car’s bullhorn then came alive and demanded that the hapless driver shut off the motor and put his keys on top of the car. Considering how many drunken souls were out at this hour, it seemed a smart precaution.

But the driver was cogent, in fact, and had his license ready when the two officers strode up to meet him. What the policemen didn’t expect was the presence of three drunken young bravos who had just shambled out of the corner pizza joint.

They called out to the police from the crosswalk: first with whistles and catcalls, then appellations of the more insulting variety. This included one term which describes an orifice at the opposite end from our mouth, and an old-English noun which usually designates a female dog. These epithets were repeated again and again, just in case the two policemen hadn’t heard them the first time.

your tax dollarsMichelle Rick

This brought to mind a youthful exchange I once had with my father. It followed his admonition that I should never call a cop a “cop.”

“But he is a cop!” I protested in my teenage exuberance.

“He knows what he is, dammit!” my Dad countered in his typical boiler-cooker temper. “I’m just telling you not to get smart with him. This is the big city,” he said, looking me square in the eye. “It ain’t Disneyland.” My Dad looked askance. Then with a bite of the lip he said: “Always show a policeman some respect,” he said. “And be careful what you call him.”

“Yeah?” I said with some cockiness. “So what do I call him?”

“Call him ‘Officer,’ or don’t call him anything!”

Such were the words of wisdom my old-school father repeated to his obstinate and mouthy son. His advice held true throughout my life, I must admit, which is why I found the drama unfolding this night so riveting.

The look that passed between the two cops was indescribable. After a brief moment of silent mind-meld, one cop whipped the keys off the top of the car, tossed them back to the driver and told him he was free to go.

The driver sped off, and the cops turned to face the new foe. Two of the bravos took up the challenge, and in a mere moment both were handcuffed and made to lay down on the street. The third, not nearly as drunk, was cuffed too, but spared the close-up view of the asphalt that his pals were enjoying.

Two more squad-cars squealed to a halt, and the young men were duly shown to their seats. Off they rode then, into the night, to jail, to prove my father right: yes indeed, this ain’t Disneyland.

So when you’re out and about in this great big city, and you see a uniformed officer of the NYPD, please stop and reflect on what my Dad once told me, long ago, of how a young guy should talk to the law:

“He knows what he is, dammit. So don’t get smart with a cop.”

Disneyland-FinaL3Illustration by Tim Milk