by Bill Ketzer
The subject of bicycles
turned us into enemies.
-Tobias Wolff, 'This Boy's Life'
So, last year it occurred to Mayor Jennings to include in his budget proposal (which got passed, somehow) an allotment for the Albany Police Department to purchase Trek mountain bikes for a fortunate few of their finest law enforcement officials. These two-wheeled warriors of service and protection would basically patrol the same beats they did on foot -- writing traffic tickets, busting unprepared petty thieves and chasing loitering old men with garbage bags full of empties out of Capital Plaza -- only faster, faster, dammit! I worked down there as money guy at a hot dog cart owned by one of my best friends. It was a morose, belittling affair, but it paid the rent while I was in college, and I ate for free.
One seasonably warm day in May we had the pleasure of finally seeing several members of this much-heralded elite patrol perusing around the park, yelling at double-parked state workers, sweating their asses off in those dark blue duds. When it gets hot enough down there, the stench of burnt sausage and nitrates can be crippling; add heavy, non-porous uniforms that don't reflect sunlight and you've got a recipe for at least a minor stroke. A flurry of napkins and paper plates blew in pirouettes on the sidewalk as one rode by.
"Yeah right," my buddy Bass said (he's known by no other name), standing at the edge of the cart eating a Sabrett's dog with meat sauce and melted cheddar. "Let's see one of them catch me on those things."
I looked at him. He weighed 240 pounds. On a good day. Naked. Without limbs. I said nothing.
"I'd take 'em down State Street hill towards the river," he cooed, "No problem. Watch 'em crash into buses, dogs, buildings... what a load of crap."
I eyeballed one officer as he almost endoed on a curb and into a maple while trying to choose between the gyro cart or the two attractive young ladies in short-shorts and platform sandals at the fruit cup stand. Cops never ate at our cart; we exhuded criminality, untrustworthy and surely tainted with Bass' long, unkept black mane and my hearty tattoo collection. White trash effigies.
"They do look unsteady, don't they?" I said.
"Unsteadaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh!!" said Bass. He burnt his hand on the potato bin. "Unsteady? Any one of us could take 'em, anytime. Look how loaded down they are with that pannier and the Cat's Eye battery pack. And look at that belt."
"Yeah, but they could always just shoot you," I said.
"I wish," he said, pouring water on his wounded hand.
Bass was one of those people who was always talking about suicide or wanting to die. When we were younger, I used to worry about him, try and coach him out of it. Now, 15 years down the road, it was downright annoying. I wanted to ask him if he realized what a cry for attention, what a cop-out his empty wishes were. People who really wanted out, got out, and as quickly as possible. It took a Herculean feat of strength not to scream "Hypocrite!" in his fuzzy Ewok face, my crooked teeth and Danish pate gleaming back in the reflection of his trashed shades. But I knew the argument all to well; that kind of response was exactly what he wanted. A validation, a justification for his anger. I ignored him.
"I wonder if they get to take them home," I said, referring to the black Trek 9000 the officer -- now steeped in what could only have been intellectually significant conversation with the fruit cup girls -- got to ride around on all day.
"Ask him," he muttered, stirring the meat sauce.
So I walked over to the guy- a short, pleasant looking Italian fellow with a helmet of jet black hair and the perfunctory gold chain.
"Hey," I said.
He looked a little heartbroken that I was interrupting a potential rendezvous between himself and the buxom 16-year olds with the Jennifer Aniston hair logistics, but he smiled and said hello.
"Hey, I noticed all the other police issue bikes come with cantilevers," I said. "Did you put those V- Brakes on yourself?"
"What's that?" he said.
"Ah, nevermind," I said, and pointed to the Trek. "You get to take that home?".
It was looking bleak.
"Oh!" he said, looking relieved. He thought I was talking about the increasingly giddy fruit slingers, who now elbowed each other and whispered, giggling, with turned palms. "Naw, we store them at the 2nd Precinct."
"That's strange," I said
"You get to take your gun home, don't you?"
"See that big hippie looking guy over there?"
"The one with the surgical gloves."
Bass waved. The cop made a face and scratched his head. "What about him?"
"He says he can take you any day on that cookie-cutter mountain bike."
He rolled his head back and laughed a little. His hairy mitts almost dropped his fruit cup.
"Oh yeah? You tell him even if I couldn't, which I could, I'd have back-up on his ass faster than he could say, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath."
This was an obscure reference to the T-shirt Bass wore -- a 1983 Sabbath Born Again tour shirt. You find Sabbath fans in the most obscure places. I tried to hide my almost avuncular pride.
"I'll tell him."
What the cop said was true, of course. Upon careful consideration throughout the remainder of that wrong, sweltering afternoon, spent taking state worker's cash by the parasoled hunk of metal fueled by propane and desperation, I saw our conversation as representative of a larger scheme. I began to feel a little trapped, as I had been in my parent's house at 15; ready for adventure, calamity, riot... whatever But still very much part of a larger dictatorial network whose agenda would inevitably ensue, despite any sophomoric resistance I could cough up with lungs like over-stuffed vacuum cleaner bags.
Now, healthier, but no happier, the same was true: You couldn't fight the man, in all his various cantankerous configurations. The theme of alcoholism, movie theaters, and deregulated phone service.
Before I hopped on the '87 Stumpjumper (precious beater magnifique) and went to class, I had the immense pleasure of catching my first glimpse of the weaker species of mountain bike policeman, the lowly and much reproached CAPITAL POLICE MAN. These guys, once gunless, overweight, glorified security guards who lived to arrest skateboarders catching big air of park monuments, were recently (astoundingly) emulsified into the ranks of the NEW YORK STATE TROOPERS. I remember reading somewhere the real state troopers were none to happy to be affiliated with these folks, probably with good reason.
This particular officer, a sour-pussed, well-fed wreck of a man, possibly of Greco-Roman descent, rode around the remainder of the summer practicing a kind of ecclesiastical scoff at everyone. Whenever he passed, pedaling squares, like an infant learning to walk, I'd nod and smile, only to receive his aloof, contemptuous frown. He gave the impression that being out in the sun on your bike all day was some kind of medieval torture revival.
I tried all summer to induce a sense of camaraderie with him; that kind of unspoken empathy most cyclists exchange with a wave or a nod, me being such an obvious fanatic. Everyday I rode a different bike to work (beater, mountain, BMX, road), and Bass and I were always sporting various company schwag in the form of hats, shirts and the like. I caught him checking the bikes out all the time, but only when we were busy, as if there were an unspoken social contract where police could only stoop to converse with citizens if they were doing something wrong. Anyway, his contempt for me and my clinically-depressed friend remained unfettered. As the weather grew colder, however, so did I. It was hard enough being nice to people you liked.
By late August, I began to lose it. I can't describe it any better than that. Gone. A career -- however temporary -- in food service was not for me. The 'state trooper' carouseled the line of food carts as a condor to carrion, scowling. Bass's disdain for all living things and total inability to get things done was becoming unbearable. Since we rode together a lot, the rides suffered as well. Besides complaining he was too fat and too ugly to ever scoop up the porn girl of his dreams (much less hillclimb), he was all unnecessary investment and no passion; the first thing he did when he got his student loan was blow $500 on a Spinergy wheelset. If you know anything about these things, you know that the rims are very 'tall,' so you use these $8 valve extenders on the presta valves in order for them to reach beyond the rim, allowing you to (duh) pump the thing up. The first week he had them, he busted the rear one. No air would enter the tube. He rode it until he pinch flatted, and he hasn't rode it since. Because of an eight dollar part. A beautifully crafted Cannondale collecting dust over a simple phone call. I refused to fix it; I began to look elsewhere for singletrack companionship.
I also began to obsess horribly about our grim 'trooper'. Like I said, I was totally gone; I'd go home, drink expresso and type furious manifestos on the computer, concocting frightening scenarios involving Burmese tiger traps and such, just like in The Most Dangerous Game. At 29 years old and freshly sober after a 10-year battle with my liver, I found myself not only impatient and quarrelsome, I also dwelled luxuriously in what Freud called projection; even the most microscopic event -- say, having to drive your mother to pick up her car at the mechanic (you know the type: she works her imaginary foot brake from the passenger side with disgusting zeal and treacherously white-knuckles the arm rest) would become the source of all my life's pain and suffering. In this context, it's not too difficult to envision the likelihood of the melee I'm about to describe.
On the other hand, I had an English professor who once said some people are simply doomed to try to transform the figurative into the literal. Like sadomasochists. Like swinging spouses. Like people who try to escape a small army of policemen on a mountain bike.
Either way, in my temporary insanity I began a confrontational dialogue with our 'trooper', a pointedly more sarcastic assault than I'd recently begun with the Albany squad. The Albany boys were the okay sort, really; certainly of higher pedigree than the khaki-garbed tankard; they'd just smile or give it right back to me. And, to be fair, they were better at it; usually I was the one silenced by a barrage of time-honored one-liners delivered with mainframe precision. This verbal spanking, however, was ineffective in diluting my desire to create an adverse reaction- any reaction- in that one vapid, humorless man.
Initially, I started in on him just like the rest of them, yelling things like "Pedal!" or "You'd never catch me on a good day!" I thought this would be enough to break his silence, or at least, his icy demeanor. It didn't. On a cool September morning, a slight drizzle attempting to permeate the force-field of Methane, the time came. I fulfilled Bass's cops & robbers pipedream with a conviction that would rival Union General William T. Sherman's. To this day, it remains a period of curiosity for me; again, it was as if I'd become unable to detach my fantasies from reality. The waking life was like a wishing life. In reality, I had no desire to cause such problems -- for the uptight officer, for Bass, or for myself, for that matter. Call it a manifestation of years spent in a cocoon-like state of medication and denial. Godzilla breaking out of the iceberg. Whatever. Every time he rode by, I let him have it. Bass, very sarcastic but habitually non-confrontational, amazingly joined in too.
"Hey mista, we got free hot dogs for our peace providers!"
"Oh, I see he's already been 'round a few times today."
"Diet soda with that pork pie?"
The hateful glares were temporarily replaced by flabbergasted, wrinkly-browed expressions. His steering went all funny. There was an expression of utter apathy on Bass's face. I kept it up.
"Well, at least if you get a flat you've got a spare tire!"
Bingo. He threw down his bike and stormed over.
"Whassa matter punks," he spat, as the tanning-booth masses stopped pumping pre-cooked filth into their gullets to watch the show. "You got nothing better to do today than go downtown?"
"Downtown!" I howled. "Oh, that's a good one. Like a straight man out of a Marx Brothers flick! 'Yer goin' downtown, buddy-boy!'' I did a horrible Groucho impersonation, complete with imaginary cigar.
Finally, the statue crumbled. It came in the form of a spasm, like a sneeze. Perhaps a treacherous memory of a parent's vicious habit of imitating Groucho at the dinner table 12 years straight, without exception. Maybe not.
"You got one more chance to shut that beer hole of yours, boy," he roared. "Or you will be arrested, and I will see to it that you accidentally stumble and fall down those precinct steps, you got me?"
He pointed a fat, nefarious finger in my face. Worrying a bit about business (he was a poor enough salesman as it was), Bass stepped in.
"Whoa!" he said putting both hands out in front of him. "Forget it, forget it! We don't want any trouble. We just wonder why you ride around all--"
"I don't have to explain anything to you punks!" he screamed. "Who do you think you are? In fact, don't move."
"SHUT UP," he said, and got out his walkie-talkie. He was insane.
Just then, as fate had it, the Italian/ Black Sabbath fan/ Albany cop, saw the scrap from the Capitol steps and came cruising over.
"Carl, what's going on?" he said.
Bass and I looked at each other- "Carl?" he mouthed at me.
"I'll tell you what's goin' on. These funny boys think they can say whatever they want to anyone they want. I'm sick of listening to 'em. Fuck 'em. We're going for a ride."
"You got that right," I said, backing up as he drew closer and reached for his cuffs. "Experts only!"
The Albany cop threw up his hands. "Jesus!" he cried. "Don't!"
A nation of vendors and state workers stopped eating, walking and talking as I leapt on the beater and ducked, bolting at a 90 degree angle as the 'trooper' swiped at me like bear and stumbled, going down on one knee; later I found out he sprained his ankle, but right then I didn't look back as I made for somewhere, anywhere.
"You sonovabitch!" he screamed, his voice cracking like an awkward teen.
"Aw, for the luvva god!" said the Sabbath Cop; I couldn't see him but I knew he'd just resigned himself to the chase. Oddly, I thought I heard him laugh. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw two more mounties bombing down the upper part of state.
"That was quick," I think I said to myself, by now in full sprint.
This is where everything slowed down; the expenditure of sheer adrenaline turns seconds into minutes. Temporality, already prone to distortion by memory, is blown even further into obscurity. I blasted out of the saddle to cries of "Freeze!" (which is a ridiculous thing to say to your quarry); immediately, remarkably, magically, I noticed Marcel- one of hardest working bums on the can-collecting circuit- hoofing along side me. He wore an expression of dedication and madness.
"You go Franklin!" he shrieked, pearl-white eyes bulging from his dark skin. "Ain't no blue gonna put the 'cuffs on you, boy!" His old Panasonic ten-speed (which I'd just installed brakes on; previously he wore out a pair of shoes every week stopping it) rattled like a garbage truck, which I suppose it was, really. On his rear rack he had a completely filled bag of empty cans, yet his skinny self was right next to me, shirtless, legs furiously pumping. I was totally touched. Just before I reached the end of the grass, I saw him go down hard out of the corner of my eye, an act which took out the "trooper" in a big old fashioned way, cans flying everywhere. The sound was not unlike a dumptruck full of empty beer kegs crashing into a huge iron piece of modern art.
He was certainly earning his 28 grand that day.
To my utter bewilderment I turned and saw that the bike police were multiplying like rabbits. It was ridiculous; weren't there other parts of town now sorely lacking in public safety? How many of these guys were there, anyway?
I'm not sure if Bass's previous fantasy chase had subconsciously lodged itself in my brain or I was just responding to a mountain biker's instinctual ability to find the shortest, fastest route, but just as he'd hypothetically declared (and to the gasps and cries of the paper-shuffling dominions sporting suits and dresses from Macy's) I dragged an already increasing trail of bicycle policemen down the steep, smooth tarmac of State Street. I could hear them yelling unintelligible, threatening things behind me. It was a curious sight; what had happened up there certainly didn't seem like the type of thing to inspire a massive chase. Personally, I reasoned they must've been either just festering for this opportunity, or they were very, very big on paperwork. I mean, to call other units off their beats? I didn't get it, but it was, as the great god Lemmy of Motï¿½rhead said, "Too late, too late." Regardless, Bass was mistaken about their physical condition. They were all fast as hell.
Now, two things occurred to me simultaneously: One: I was on a beater. Actually, it wasn't a beater, it was a top-of-the-line-for-it's-time Stumpjumper that I built up for my girlfriend. It had an old Girvin Flex Stem and downhill bars, toe-clips and Ritchey Tom Slick baldys. The old Shimano Deore gruppo was in top shape, and the bike was real light for 1987 chromoly. The paint was good, too. Still, it wasn't mine; it was too small and I wasn't used to pounding on it. I wasn't sure how it would hold up. I wasn't sure how I would hold up.
Two: If I continued all the way down State street- which practically ends at the Hudson River and literally places you at the bottom of the city- I'd be trapped; surely patrol cars would have no problem spotting me. The preserve by the river is wide open terrain, too. No little side streets. No abandoned buildings. Not good.
In fact, the only side street available before State dumped onto the main path of South Pearl Street was Lodge Street, which went nowhere, really, except into the labyrinth of the Pepsi Arena. Behind me, the swarm of black and tan -- at least ten strong by now -- clicked into tougher gears and poured it on. Soon they would execute me like a dog with bad hips. I took the corner onto Lodge as fast as I could, leaping over the curb. I still must have had a good jump on them, because I was almost to Beaver Street before I heard a few of them go down; more clackety-clack scraping metal and shouts of general displeasure. They should ride road bikes more often!
Now, I knew I had to stay out of open areas and main roads, which was going to be tough since whole city blocks were nuked in order to build the aforementioned satanic corporate concert/ arena football edifice. At the end of Lodge was Ogden's Restaurant and Howard Street. I had to resist letting gravity take me down to Pearl, where I'd be a sitting duck. Instead, I clicked into a slightly lower gear and hammered uphill onto Wendell Street, and shot into a faux parking garage entrance that dumps into the loading docks at lower part of the arena. How sharp my mind felt! How brazen and powerful, my soul literally soaring despite a relentless wave of panic and sorrow. The poet William Blake was correct in his assumption the soul is inexorably connected to the body. I was swollen with exhilaration!
More yells. Squad cars any minute. I hurled myself through the docks and up onto Grand Street, where I quickly hung a right onto the cobblestones of Hamilton Street. Glancing over my shoulder, I noticed I had somehow increased the gap between myself and the police. This allowed me a moment of reflection. There was an abandoned office building on the corner, and the lot, chained off to cars, offered a splendid six-foot tall jungle of weeds and garbage. I figured what the hell. Over the chain went my girlfriend's rig, and I wedged myself into an indentation in the back of the building by a dumpster, and waited, sweating profusely.
Initially, all I could hear was my heart like a pneumatic hammer in my ears, but soon I heard the faint sound of human-powered drivetrains blast down Grand. They must have split up; I only heard a couple. It could have meant anything -- they could've been anywhere. Suddenly, an empty bottle landed at my feet with a solid "ka-thunk!" My bladder almost dropped.
"BOO!!" said a tattered old man, lying in a puddle of undetermined fluid in the adjacent corner of the indentation. He was very old and had a bulbous nose, with pinhole eyes that were partially concealed by a roman candle shower of gray hair.
"Hey!" I hissed, still out of breath. "You trying to get me in trouble?" I picked up the unbroken bottle and stuffed it out of the way. "Can't you see I've got a problem here?"
"I can't see nothin'," he slurred, and started to cackle. He obviously had an ashtray lodged in his chest.
"Well, do me a favor and don't say ï¿½nothin'' either, okay?"
"Rodger Dodger," he said, whatever that meant. I was sweating bullets.
We sat there for a while, silent. As the aroma of grain alcohol and sour rubbish rocked my weak quest for air in the neutral fog of day, it began to rain softly. After what seemed like hours (but was probably about 5 minutes), he spoke again.
"That's a nice bike."
"I had me a bike, once, when I was a boy."
"Oh yeah," he said, and smiled. He looked up beyond me, to some blank canvas in his mind's eye. It was as whimsical a thing as any. "I loved that bike. A Rollfast Hopalong Cassidy. Got it in ï¿½50 or ï¿½51. Had a freakin' gun holster and saddle bags right on it. Thing was a tank." He sighed.
"What happened to it?" I asked.
"Brother sold it on me while I was in Korea," he exclaimed, throwing up his arms. "Bastard."
I got up. "Plenty of ï¿½em out there," I said, getting up to go.
His face twisted up. "Bikes... or bastards?" he asked.
"You got that right."
"See ya round."
I rode off feeling sad, but better for the experience, somehow. It was hard however, having been distracted, to hatch a plan. Plus, I was getting tired. Damn hot dogs.
Finally, I snuck out and poked my head around a corner. Funny how I hadn't seen a single police cruiser yet. Nothing. I hustled back down to Grand and stepped on it, all the way across town past the Governor's Mansion, thinking I could climb back up the hill on a lesser-used street like Myrtle Avenue, maybe get back into the heart of the city and stow away at a friend's digs or something, but it wasn't to be. When I reached Madison Avenue, spinning like a fool, I practically plowed straight into none other than the Sabbath Cop. He and a ludicrously masculine comrade were making their way back down the hill; seeing me, they broke hard but still overshot me by about 500 feet. They had to turn around and climb back up after me as I went all out on Grand. The adrenaline was beginning to make me weaker instead of stronger.
"Enough's enough, dude!" he cried. "You're only makin' it worse!"
Not believing for a second he really called me "dude," I swept left down Trinity Place, hoping to come down onto Pearl, and there he was: THE STATE TROOPER. He dismounted and stood at the bottom of the street in bad, giddy hunger, trying in vain to form words of self-praise. There was no way out; he had me and he knew it. What neither of us knew, however, was that one of the brake blocks on my rear tire had rattled loose somehow. I figured I'd zoom right up to my impending doom at full bore, just to give him a start before he accidentally pummeled me into compost. Again, micro-time here, tenths of seconds... as it became evident I was going give him at least a close shave, his face registered concern, but not fear. He was either too stupid or too smart, I'm still not sure.
"AAARRRRGGHHHHAAAAGGHHTTTYYOOOOOUUUU!!!" he finally bellowed, spittle flying as he opened his arms as if to receive the welcome and long-awaited embrace of a long-lost relative believed killed during a tsunami in New Guinea.
That's when I broke into what would have been a sweeping skid (the kind IMBA has nightmares about), save the fact my rebel break pad kissed the sidewall of my tire. It exploded with a crisp "POP," and rendered me unable to finish the sweep but instead sent me awkwardly careening, backwards, into the guy's midsection. If he was scared, I never saw it.
"Ooof," he said. Nothing more.
The sound of the rim on the pavement was like nails on a chalkboard in hell. I could smell a bouquet of oniony arm pits and aftershave as I closed his jaw with my head. The sharp snap of teeth echoed in my brain as we somersaulted down into the busy street to the din of car horns and laughter, his moist shirt pressed into my face.
To make matters worse, Sabbath Cop and his partner stormed down Trinity too fast and almost got erased from the equation for good by a Greyhound bus (the terminal was just down the road).
"Freeze!" said the partner.
"Jesus, don't move!" said Sabbath Cop.
"I can't," I muttered. I almost laughed.
"Uhh," the "trooper" said.
Then, of course, a squad car arrived. Sabbath Cop helped me up and onto its hood and cuffed me. My head was turned towards the driver of the cruiser, who sat at the wheel calling dispatch, and to my utter horror I realized the young officer was my nephew, Ronnie. Our eyes met; I watched the hilarious wash of recognition pore over his clean-shaven face.
He got out. "Is Carl dead?" he asked Sabbath Cop. Carl insisted he remain stationary until an EMT could confirm it was safe for him to move.
"Call an ambulance," said Sabbath. "But I think he'll live."
"Uncle Frank, it had to be you," he said admonishingly. Still, he sounded good- natured about it. He was always a good boy. "My mom is gonna murder you."
"Not if you don't tell her, Ronnie."
"Wait a minute," Sabbath said. "You know this guy?"
"Wha-?" stammered Carl from the pavement. That got his attention.
My nephew looked at me and said, in a way I could not fully interpret, "Unfortunately."
A few more squad cars arrived in typical grandiose fashion, sirens blazing. The EMTs arrived and hauled Carl off, who screamed "You little bastard!" from the confines of his neckbrace about a thousand times. A meat wagon arrived and took away the bikes, including my girlfriend's; I added her to the list of people who would want me dead. Sabbath sat in the back seat with me as my own nephew drove me to the station. He smiled.
"You keep your mouth shut," he whispered. "But that was the most fun I've had at work in a long time."
I didn't know what to say, so I said, "Thanks."
I'll skip the technicalities and the mundane official proceedings that occur with the act of being arrested; surely most of you know the deal, or have at least watched NYPD Blue enough to have experienced it vicariously. I spent the night in jail because I didn't wish to notify my family, which was dumb because The Times Union had already been at the station asking about me. I posted bail. It was expensive. That's what I used my student loan money for that year, so I guess Bass made out better than I did. I went home.
To my surprise, my chase made A1 in two out of three local papers. In each one, the reporters weren't so much anti-me (they all wrote about how foolish a decision it was to forgo back-up in the latter stages of the pursuit in order to save face) or anti-cop (much was made of how fortunate Albany was to have a cycling patrol as to avoid needless car chases) as they were in complete awe. They spoke as if it were the stuff of made-for-TV movies. They commented on how bystanders cheered on the "adroit, bespectacled perpetrator" as he dropped the police one by one. Eyewitnesses used adjectives such as "amazing," "breathtaking," and even "great fun." Easy for them to say.
The media surrounded the courtroom, too. As the sheriff's deputy (ironically, a guy I used to hang out with in high school) led me in, they pelted me with questions to which I had no answers.
"Mr. Andersen, did you plan the chase?"
ï¿½Mr. Andersen, how does the University at Albany feel about this?"
"I don't know."
"Will they reprimand?"
"They will now, thanks to you."
"Was it worth it?"
"Have you spoken to the officers who were hurt in the chase?"
"Would you if you could?"
And so on.
The American judicial system has changed remarkably little since the days of Ancient Greece, and not just structurally; it's still very much a mythology to those who've never actually sat in the big chair. In a weird way, it's flattering; everyone is there just for you.
Luckily, I never sat in that chair, because I copped a plea. I sat, still very sore and humiliated, in the dim fluorescent light of the justice's chambers as they went down the list of charges. Assaulting a Police Officer; Felony Flight; Endangering the Welfare of Others; Wreckless Endangerment. Every time a cop fell down because they couldn't ride, I was charged. The judge- a very huge, weary-looking man with intelligent blue eyes and a thick head of white hair- listened intently as the Assistant District Attorney and my public defender, Mr. MacGowan, bickered over the stipulations of my plea. The whole place smelled like a mausoleum.
I felt ill; I was extremely embarrassed by this whole affair, nevermind the fact my family was in the process of exporting me to China in exchange for exotic foodstuffs and the State University, despite my awesome GPA, was considering some arcane form of disciplinary action. I'd never been so humiliated. That is, until the judge grew frustrated and spoke up over the surmounting din of the lawyers' whiny litigation.
"People!" he cried, placing a hand to his forehead. "Let's get this over with. There are approximately 150 potential jurors waiting in a small, stuffy room on the third floor to see if this case goes to trial."
All fell silent.
"Here's what we're going to do. The defendant has never been in trouble in his life, save a few Open Container charges in his teens which somehow never got dropped off his permanent record. Plus, it occurs to me, according to eyewitnesses at the scene and written statements provided by the accused and another officer who was involved in the chase, that he really didn't do anything to instigate or justify such a substantial pursuit."
The Assistant D.A. frowned. "Yes, but--"
"I'm not finished Mr. Powell," the judge said calmly but firmly, holding up his hand. He was like a wise old elder of some Eastern philosophical religion, except he looked like Archie Bunker. "On top of all that, it also appears from the evidence that Albany Police Dispatch was notified of the chase, as it was in progress, and was told back-up would not at all be necessary."
He paused a moment to shuffle a few papers.
"What this means -- besides making all of the mounted officers look like rank amateurs on tricycles until he made the fatal mistake of leaving the premises of the abandoned building instead of letting the trail get cold -- is that the only thing I can possibly allow the defendant to be charged with is Assaulting a Police Officer, and even then it should stem from the verbal assault as stated in the evidence, not from any injury the officers' sustained during the pursuit, i.e., their own ineptitude."
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Heavenly fanfare played in my ears! Nobody said anything; you could hear the clock tick as we waited for the judge to continue. He cleared his throat.
"I'm going to resist throwing this whole circus out the window out of respect for the duties of New York State Trooper Carl Kostas, who at this moment is recovering nicely at Albany Medical Center. He looked at me. Two years probation, son, during which you will report periodically to an assigned probation officer for reassessment. You will proceed to the second floor, room 236, where you'll be assigned an officer and a time and place for your initial processing. After you have done this, you're free to go. Any questions?"
They all looked at me.
"No, your honor."
"Good. Let's get out of this rat trap and hit the links."
After I made the appointment, I walked outside and looked up at City Hall. It was a wonderfully odd structure. The morning sun shone pale, like a hard-boiled egg yolk suspended in solution as I got ready to catch a bus home. I was trying to put the events of the past few days into some kind of perspective, some semblance of order, as humans are often prone to doing. It was impossible. It made no sense. There was no lesson to be had, really; I felt neither repentant nor absolved, neither indignant nor chastised. I just felt lucky. Sometimes, you just get lucky.
Bass would later provide me with the little bits of info I'd been unable to witness for myself during my maelstrom of bikes, bruises, and bad mojo. I learned that Marcel the can man took out Carl the "trooper" on purpose ("Straight up, cousin," he said), the Sabbath Cop told his buddies "no back-up" right from the start, and the fruit cup girls gave him free stuff from then on. Although we decided it would be in everyone's best interest if I found a different job, Carl continued to patrol the plaza with the same constipated look and a new helmet. He never said a word to Bass. Whatever.
If there must be an end to this tale, it would certainly be this: As I walked around to the back of City Hall that day, towards the bus depot, I was stopped short by the sound of a little bell jingling behind me. I turned just in time to see the judge roll by on what looked remarkably like a 1951 Rollfast Hopalong Cassidy. He waved.
"Good luck," he said.
1. A novel by Richard Connell that almost every 9th grader gets to read about the insane General Zaroff, who grows weary of hunting animals and decides to hunt humans instead.
2. Sherman, towards the end of the Civil War, not only took the City of Atlanta, he burnt it to the ground. He left the bars and pool halls standing, though.
3. William Blake (1757-1827) was an English, Romantic Era Poet. Recommended reading: Songs of Innocence and Experience, and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.
© Bill Ketzer
other stories by B. Ketzer
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