Read my friend Dave Cory's latest Blog - And actually had caught part of the same This American Life piece, (Love that show...). Both got me thinking about my dark past, and... It's time to fess up.
Yeah, I used to be a cop. And yeah, it's true - I could probably write a book filled with stories from those days; no exaggeration needed, 'cause truth is stranger than fiction... And here's the one they got me thinking about.
In CopSpeak, a 481 is the radio code for a Mental Person, (A Nutbasket, whacko, Looneytoons, etc). They're usually either annoying or scary calls to answer, depending on what's going on. One night when I was a patrol guy, I got a 481 call for problems up on Samish Way, by KVOS, the local TV station - A guy in the street ranting at passing cars and snarling traffic. Now, being an experienced cop, I put two and two together and made an educated guess that this was the annoying variety of the 481 call. How did I know, you ask? Because the call came from the vicinity of the TV station, of course… Huh, you ask? The TV station, gang, a 481 by the TV station – Happens all the time, because there are big ol’ satellite dishes there, and they often interfere with the brain waves of your 481 types – get it?
OK, well, I was right, because when I got up there, here was some poor lost soul yelling at the passing cars about “Interference” and gesturing at KVOS. I pulled up, lit the lights, hopped out and beckoned the guy to the curb. He was nice enough, but absolutely adamant that KVOS was messing with his thought process, and he wanted it stopped right now – Said he didn’t want to watch I Love Lucy reruns in his mind’s eye, he just wanted to go to sleep. He’d whanged on the front door some, but nobody answered, (They, along with a driver or two, had called 911, however…)
In conversation I learned that this was Jerry, who wasn’t drunk, was staying at the Mission, wasn’t on meds, and really didn’t want to hurt himself or anybody else; he just wanted the TV signal redirected away from his brain frequency. Now, as far as the law goes in Washington State, unless you are a clear and present dangers to yourself or others, you’re perfectly welcome to be nuts. So, needing a quick and effective solution to our mutual problem, I mentioned meditation to Jerry; how Monks and others who practice it could manipulate all kinds of things just by concentrating: He’d heard of it, and seemed pretty jazzed to give it a try. So I suggested he get farther away from KVOS, (Which weakens the signal strength of course), start up an Om Mani Padme Hum chant internally to derail the satellite signal, and then things would be great. He smiled, nodded, agreed to go for it, thanked me, and headed off down toward the Mission. I left thinking I was pretty sharp, indeed. For about 20 minutes, that is, until the next call came in.
Now, it was Friday night in the summer, around dusk, and I was working Paul 5, the downtown area. That is a busy place and time, and I really didn’t have time or a whole ton of patience for this… So back I went to KVOS and there was Jerry. When he saw it was me, he was apologetic, kinda sheepish, even: he said he’d really tried the meditation thing, but on the half hour when the program changed, there was Gilligan's Island, right between his eyes where it didn’t belong. OK, I thought, time for the bad cop approach… I explained Trespassing and Disorderly Conduct to Jerry, and told him he was a thin slice away from jail. He listened attentively and nodded soberly as I outlined what was gonna happen if he didn’t get this squared away and fast. When I was done, he said, “Well, I’ll sure try Officer, but you need to know, this isn’t my fault, and I think you should put them in jail…” I reinforced my point, scooted Jerry along toward town and the Mission and hoped the second time was a charm.
Twenty minutes later, it was not to be… Heading back up, I realized Jerry had called my bluff: Whereas I could take him to jail, I wasn’t gonna, because, well, it wasn’t right, and it would take a couple hours of my time to do and write up, and well, what’s the point? So I needed a realistic, long term solution, and as I arrived, it came to me.
Jerry dutifully shuffled over to the prowl car as I stepped out. I put my arm on his shoulder and guided him to the sidewalk with a conspiratorial whisper. “OK, Jerry,” I nodded, “I can see you’re not fakin’ it here, so I owe you an apology.” Jerry looked confused, so I continued, “See, Jerry, we get a lot of people who claim to be getting brainwave interference from KVOS, but there are very few of you who genuinely have the problem, ya know.” He began to smile a bit. “So, Jerry, now that I know you’re real, I’m gonna let you in on the solution, but you gotta pay attention, and you gotta swear you’re gonna follow my directions to a T, OK?” Jerry nodded solemnly, “I swear Officer, if you help me, I’ll do it!” “Alright man,” I smiled, “I believe ya, so here it is: What you need to do is head down there to the store; here, you’ll need this,” and I gave him two bucks, “Now, remember, this is important – You gotta go get a big ol’ roll of the heavy duty aluminum foil – The heavy stuff, Jerry, the wide, heavy stuff for baking, OK? And then you gotta make a suit, man – I know, it sounds goofy, but do it up like a suit of armor, OK? Legs, arms, your core to protect your vital organs, of course. and last but not least; you gotta make a hat, Jerry – Now, personally, I believe that the pirate hat shape, ya know, like we used to make out of newspaper when we were kids? I believe that shape acts just like a stealth bomber and deflects those signals like nobody’s business – Are ya with me, Jerry?”
Jerry smiled a smile of genuine warmth and relief, thanked me, promised to comply, and headed for the supermarket. I left on another call as things started to heat up for the evening. It didn’t occur to me for almost two hours that there had been no more Jerry calls. Then I heard the crusty, road weary voice of my Sergeant come across the airwaves; “Sam 3, Paul 5, can I see you please?” I answered, he named a spot, and I headed down for the meet.
He was waiting in a dark corner of a downtown parking lot, car blacked out, just the glow from his pipe showing from the driver’s side. I pulled up right next to him, driver’s window to driver’s window as you see cops do, shut down the rig and asked, “What’s up?”
“Please tell me, Atwater,” he started slowly, tamping and relighting his pipe as he watched me over the top of the flame, “That you did not tell a local nut job to dress himself in tin foil, and paid for the stuff as well – Please tell me you didn’t do that?”
“Ah, well shit Greg – Ah…. Actually, I did. But, you know those repeat 481 calls we were getting? There hasn’t been one since I got him cured.”
Seems a concerned and helpful local citizen had seen Jerry in his suit and stopped to see what was up, (This is western Washington State, and a liberal college town, so there's a lot of concerned, helpful citizens…). When Jerry cheerfully told her how I’d cured his problems, said outraged citizen had called 911 and asked for a supervisor, to complain about this obvious abuse of a person in need of help.
I outlined all the things I’d done and all the things I hadn’t done that could have made Jerry’s life tougher, and finally pointed out that he’d been happy when the citizen contacted him, so… What’s the problem?
The Sarge looked at me for a long time, obviously torn between chewing my ass, laughing, or maybe both. Finally, he took his pipe out of his mouth, knocked it upside down on his door and then clamped it back between his teeth.
“Oh, fuck it…. I’ll make it go away. Atwater? You ever do this to me again, you’ll be working Paul 1 on graveyards until you’re old and gray – understand me, son?”
“Yessir, thank you sir!”
I saw Jerry off and on for about another week or so before he moved on somewhere else. He recognized me when I’d honk and wave as I went past, and once I stopped just to shoot the shit for a minute or two. He was happy, quiet, and doing OK… And he was still wearing his suit, though he’d modified the hat into a sort of helmet that would fit under a stocking cap, so it wouldn’t blow away.
Oh, and by the way – The shows he’d claimed had been invading his brainwaves? He was right on the money – I checked the TV schedule later that night.