I never wanted to be a Police Officer. Well, not in the same way, for instance, that I wanted to be a rodeo clown or an Indian. Okay, so every little boy at some time or other plays at being a soldier, or a fireman, or a cop and so did I, but I never really thought much about it beyond playtime with my brother after school. Let’s face it; I hate confrontation and Police work, as valiant, noble and necessary a pursuit as any is just one big confrontation. I would have made a lousy Policeman!
In the seventies, the Local Police and Fire Departments of Lebanon, Oregon would put together a yearly charity event to raise money for, well, charity and one of the things they did was to challenge each other to an annual basketball game. They used to sponsor the Shriners donkey basketball game but somebody complained about the inherent cruelty of the spectacle; probably one of the janitors who had to clean the school gymnasium, or maybe it was one of the donkey’s who quickly tired of throwing errant Policemen and stubborn Firefighters to the hard parquet floor; I don’t know, but it was thereafter decided it would be more fun and educational if the Police and Firemen played each other and then, after the game went into the stands and shook hands and mingled with the citizens. This particular year, the Police team was short on height and figured the game to be an up hill if losing battle.
Somebody in Lebanon decided to cash in on the racquetball craze that was sweeping the nation and opened a small indoor court. My bother’s boss had a membership, which he extended to Howard and, so we decided to play one morning. We weren’t very good at the game but what we lacked in skill, we certainly made up for with enthusiasm and false bravado. As long as we were playing each other, the worst that could happen was that somebody would lose, get pissed and go home.
We were half way through beating each other to death when he tapped at the glass door. His name was Bob. He was about thirty. He was chubby and wearing those silly little goggles. He had on a pair of faded blue nylon shorts with a matching jersey that was just under a size too small and a headband. In all, he looked like a big fig. He said his partner hadn’t showed up and asked if we wouldn’t like to play ‘cutthroat?’ Well, he didn’t look like much to us so, we agreed.
“You boys ever play for money?” He asked as he stretched his hammies.
I looked at my brother and grinned. This guy was obviously a Rube! The question wasn’t how much we were going to wager but how much we were going to let him go home with. I cleared my throat but Howard answered.
“Five bucks a game?” He offered nonchalantly. I would have said ten.
“That all?” Bob the Rube shrugged. “Okay. You serve.” He tossed Howard the ball.
I’ll bet that was the fastest five bucks he ever made!
I don’t think we even scored a point. Maybe Howard scored a couple of points over the next four games but I know I didn’t. Howard served first and then Bob served. And once Bob got the service, he kept it. Shoot, I don’t even remember getting up to serve. That guy had every short downhill angle on the court figured as if he had a slide-rule in his socks! He had us running up and down, side-to-side and sweating like prison camp workers while he stood all but still. He never even broke a sweat. It’s a good thing my bother had a twenty on him because I had no cash at all. I never did. Come to think of it, I’ll bet I still owe him half of that bet, but don’t remind him, okay?
After we settled up and after we both stopped chuffing like bad diesel engines, Bob lit a cigarette- why not, he hadn’t run at all- looked me up and down and asked if I played basketball?
“For money?” I wheezed suspiciously?
For all I knew, he was really Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in a short, fat white-man’s suit. We had already had the pants beaten off of us by a big fig, who stood as still as a statue in one corner of the court while we ran back and forth like a couple of nuts. I wasn’t sucking around for anymore.
“That’s funny.” Bob chuckled as he folded my brother’s twenty into his sock next to his slide-rule. “No. Not for money.”
He told me about the charity basketball game and that the Department needed another tall player.
“How would you like to be a Cop?” He asked.
Why he thought I would be any better at basketball than I was at racquetball is a question I still can’t answer but since I was six-foot-four, I guess he guessed maybe they could just use me as a kind of big blonde under-the-basket sink-stopper. Two weeks later, after some cursory physical agility and aptitude tests, I was issued a reservist badge, a uniform and God help us all- a gun.
The Fire Department beat us running backwards. And laughing.
But all that didn’t matter because I was a real deal, genuine, sworn in and duly deputized, Reserve Police Officer! Pretty cool. Before I could get out on the road with the big boys and solve crimes, arrest bad guys and in general, keep the public safe from criminals, I had to learn standard radio procedure. That meant forty hours in the office with the dispatcher. She taught me everything she could and amazingly, though I remember none of it today, I learned it. I met with the Chief the following morning. He quizzed me and when he was satisfied that he was not turning a Barney Fife loose onto the poor unsuspecting ten thousand or so citizens of Lebanon, Oregon, granted me permission to begin my on the job training as a Reservist.
“I’ll be listening in on the radio tomorrow night.” He warned me. “Stick to procedure, listen to your FTO and behave yourself and maybe you’ll get to Tuesday before I fire you.” He snapped. Oh, sure! Like if I was getting paid!
I worked my inaugural street shift on swing- four in the afternoon to midnight- and I might as well have pulled duty in the public library. Nothing happened! I mean nothing! I was so bored I almost fell asleep in the squad car. Thoroughly disappointed, I checked my weapon, clocked out and went home. Good grief, forty mind-numbing hours of learning proper radio procedure in the office had been more diverting.
I got home, ate a cup of Ramen and went to bed. At about one in the morning, my dad woke me up.
“The Department wants you back at the station toot sweet. They say the place is coming apart at the seams and they need everybody.”
The bureau was all but deserted when I got there. The only two people in the entire station were the dispatcher and Sergeant Zucher- ‘Zuke’ for short. Everybody was already out on calls.
“Well,” he said, “it’s Friday night, it’s a full moon and Welfare checks are out. It’s a total zoo out there. When Randy gets back in, you’ll go out with him.”
In short order, Officer Randy (I forget his last name) came through the back door and hustled some kid into the tank. By the time he got around to telling Zuke what was going on, the dispatcher called around the hallway corner.
“Sergeant, we got a report of some idiot smashing store windows on main with an axe handle.”
Zuke told Randy to take me and go find him. We hadn’t even got out the door before Officer Randy’s radio crackled to life.
“Forget the idiot with the axe handle.” The dispatcher said. “You got bigger problems. There are fights going on in both the 86 and Woodchipper’s taverns. They have spilled into one big brawl.” She told us.
Randy fired up the squad car, I piled in and off we roared, spitting gravel from under our tires.
On the way, driving with one hand, Officer Randy was donning a riot helmet, taking off his badge, his wristwatch, his nameplate and anything else that was loose or might protrude or otherwise hang or dangle from his person. I watched him, goggle-eyed.
“What are you doing?” I asked him incredulously. He regarded me coolly. The uncertainty must have been apparent on my face.
“Hey,” he warned me as we careened around a corner on two tires, “you don’t want to give anybody anything they can grab a hold of. Better get all that stuff off and put this on.” He shoved a riot helmet at me that was about a size and a half too big.
When we finally got to the front door of the Woodchipper’s, we could hear the sounds of the fight inside. We could hear glass shattering and cursing and bodies being assaulted. Officer Randy took in a deep and calming breath.
“Okay, now it’s just us.” He counseled me sternly. “All the other’s are already out on calls. County has their hands full and State won’t come unless we declare an emergency. So, we gotta hit this door like we’re the U.S., f*ck#@! Marines. Once we get inside, if anybody makes a grab for you, throws something or even looks at you sideways, you start swinging that club,” he pointed to my nightstick, “and don’t stop till the dust clears; understand?”
My eyes, under my big hat, must have been the size of restaurant plates. Officer Randy gigged me in the chest with his nightstick.
“Understand?” He repeated.
“Y…Yeah.” I stammered.
He turned to the door, reared back to kick it open, stopped, paused and turned back to me.
“Just remember one thing.” He cautioned. “Don’t hit me!”
Oh, boy! Talk about your confrontations! This one was shaping up to go bad and get serious in a real hurry! I had managed to leap from racquetball and basketball to land right smack into the middle of an good old fashioned, good old boy, spit in your eye, stomp your pig and kiss your girl barroom brawl; without so much as a ‘by your leave’ or mother may I? And it wasn’t that I wanted my mother so much right about then; actually anybody’s mother would have done quite nicely, but I wanted to be anywhere other than where I was, because to tell you the absolute truth… I was scared spit-less!
The bad boys inside must have heard us talking outside because by the time Officer Randy kicked the door in, hostilities had ceased. Oh, there was plenty of evidence of a pretty good fight; lots of broken glass, spilt lips, torn ears and bloodied noses but everyone seemed to be as innocent as lambs as they tried to avoid making eye contact with us. Randy had a few stern words with the boys in the bar and one or two more with the bartender while I stood there with my nightstick and big hat and endeavored to look tough while I tried not to pee my pants!
Right about then the radio crackled ominously. The dispatcher said we had to get back to the station and right now. Sergeant Zucher had his hands full and needed help. Before we got back to the station, the dispatcher called again and said there was yet another emergency. Officer Randy came to a screeching halt in a hail of dust and a cloud of bullets in the back lot, shoved me out and told me to get in the station and help Sergeant Zucher. He roared off into the night as I ran for the back door.
Every little town in nowhere U.S.A. has a local character or drunk or both. Back then we had several and one of them was assaulting the hell out of Sergeant Zucher. When I came through the back door, I found Zuke and old Clancy- I’ll call him that for anonymity’s sake and because I can’t remember his real name- knotted up on the linoleum floor tighter than a tangled bowline. Zuke was trying his best not to hurt the poor old fellow but in the process was all but losing the fight.
“Give me hand here, will ya?” He snarled.
Clancy was a retired old-school logger. He was about five foot nothing and about as wide, stout and square as he was old and drunk. He was broad, strong as a bull, had phonebook ripping strong arms and hands and advanced emphysema so bad he couldn’t walk two steps without stopping to catch his breath. Seems he had wandered into the station, drunk as a skunk and weeping inconsolably. Zuke had come to the front counter to ask him what was wrong?
“I’m here to turn myself in!” He wailed. “I got warrants!”
Zuke already had enough problems.
“Go home, Clancy.” He assured him. “We don’t have any warrants out for you.”
Clancy leaned in on the counter to steady himself.
“Yes you do.” He cried. “If I go home, you’ll just come and get me!”
Sergeant Zucher patted the old man’s hand.
“Honestly, Clancy, we don’t want you. Go home and sleep it off, will ya? Want me to call you a cab?” Zuke asked him.
“No!” Clancy wept. “You’ll just come and get me anyway.”
The argument was going nowhere. Zuke decided to prove his point. He sidled over to the dispatch desk, punched up Clancy’s name rank and horsepower and sure enough, a bench warrant came up for his arrest for unpaid parking tickets from nearly a decade before. Zuke had no choice.
“Okay, Clancy.” He said. “Let’s sleep it off in the tank.”
With that, old Clancy the retired old-school logger with advanced emphysema, one hand vaulted the counter, slugged Zuke in the face and then the two of them began rolling around on the floor like a couple of adolescent boys on the playground. Like I said, the Sergeant was trying not to hurt Clancy but he was close to losing the fight altogether. Old Clancy was so drunk he must have forgotten his advanced emphysema because he was fighting and roaring and cursing like a marathon runner!
I threw my service revolver into a lock box and jumped headlong into the fray just as Officer Clark came through. All three of us had our hands about as full as any of us wanted trying to get old Clancy into the drunk tank without having to break him or kill him! Clark was the one who finally got him into the jail. Zuke was winded. I was absolutely confused and Clark was wound tighter than a clock mainspring.
“What in the Hell?” He asked Zuke.
Sergeant Zucher waved a dismissive hand. “Don’t ask.” He panted.
The both of them headed back to the front. I lingered at the heavy steel cell door. I heard a commotion. Then I heard some swearing, a thump, a thud and then an exclamation.
A frightened young face was suddenly thrust into the thick but small plexi-glass window of the drunk tank.
Young Johnny Browner, a kid I went to school with regarded me with a sour and surprised look.
“Peterson!’ He exclaimed. “What are you doing out there?”
I was confused and not for the first time that night.
“Browner?” I asked. “What are you doing in there?”
“I got arrested.” He confessed.
Browner was a semi-star basketball player.
“For what?’ I asked him.
“Siphoning gas from the school buses.” He said. “Hey, I think this old man is dead!”
Browner looked back toward the dark confines of the cell.
“I think he’s dead. Anyway, he’s bleeding pretty bad.”
I hollered for Sergeant Zucher.
It seems that in his drunken confusion old Clancy has chosen to collapse and pass out in the nearest bed, only John was already in it. Browner, who had seen too many prison movies and feared he was about to be jail raped, punched the old logger in the face. Clancy stumbled backward and fell onto a heavy metal bed frame where he sustained a nasty, ragged three-inch gash above his right eye, just at his brow. He was indeed bleeding profusely.
By that time, one of the other more experienced Reservist’s had come in. Zuke told him:
“You two take him over to Emergency and get him sewed up.”
We got Clancy, bloodied eye and all, bundled into the back of the squad car. On the way over, the other more experienced Reservist asked me:
“First night on?” He smiled manically. “Fun, ain’t it?” He was having a great time!
We got to the hospital, got Clancy a gurney and loaded him onto it, which was no small feat. In his inebriated, if bloodied state and fresh from the snug confines of the winter warmed squad car, he was about as malleable as a wax candle in a window box in August. But all that changed once the cold arctic air hit him.
“That’s a nasty gash all right.” The young Doctor pointed out. “He’s going to need stitches.”
Old Clancy was fighting us like an octopus in a net. The Doctor was trying to inject Novocain into the offending flesh over his brow but with every movement of Clancy’s eight arms and eight legs, was in peril of putting the old man’s eye out! I could finally stand no more.
“Hell, man,” I snarled, “it’s not like he can feel anything. Just sew him up, will ya?”
We finally got Clancy’s stitched Frankenstein’s face back to the jail, put him as gently as we could in a bed that wasn’t occupied and reported back to Sergeant Zucher.
“Any trouble?” He asked us.
“Oh, Hell no, easy.” I lied.
I could go on, after all, it was only about three in the morning and the graveyard shift wasn’t due to end until eight. Along the way, I would report back to duty on the street for more than an hour without my service revolver, the axe-handle window smasher would strike several times more; (We never caught him) there would be a silent alarm, in which Officer Randy soberly cautioned me:
“Just remember one thing: Don’t shoot me!”
And a high-speed car chase with Sergeant Zucher and myself, where I would holler excitedly into the radio:
“He’s hauling ass across Oak Street!”
Breaking all proper radio procedure, to which the Chief, who had told me he would be listening in, cryptically replied:
“Uhm… was that with one hand or two?”
Wow, what a night! Like I said, I hate confrontation. Obviously and thankfully my career as a Reserve Peace Officer with the Lebanon Police Department did not last very long.
My Dear Readers- my book, A DogHouse Manifesto, is now available for purchase and listed by title at PublishAmerica.com, Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com and other fine book-sellers worldwide.
A DogHouse Manifesto © by Mitchell L. Peterson.
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