Screw It: I'm Going to Be a Cop!
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because someone's got to save us from ourselves.
By Eugene S. Robinson
“The days go on. They never end.” It was Travis Bickle, Robert De Niro’s character in the classic Martin Scorsese bildungsroman about modern anomie, Taxi Driver. Which, curiously enough, closely mirrored my own life at the time. Or so I imagined.
See most people, and by “people” I mean men, have a midlife crisis when they actually reach middle age. For most? Forty. Early adopter that I am? I started going through one at 27. I mean, what was I doing with my life anyway?
I looked around my office at the Silicon Valley research institute housed in a former defense industry compound where I worked. For security reasons, there were no windows that looked out on anything. I was reading Henry Miller’s The Air-Conditioned Nightmare during lunch breaks and feeling every bit of it.
TV had me tuned up! Baretta was a cop. Crockett and Tubbs were cops. Popeye Doyle was a cop. I should be a cop.
I left work, hit the gym. Left the gym, hit home. Woke up, rinse, repeat. I wasn’t alone. I lived with my girlfriend at the time, long enough now that her parents who had hated me were now asking when we were going to get married. Peggy Lee hit my head more often than not and specifically when she sang, “Is That All There Is?”
But an idea had started to develop. At first slowly and then with some speed: I needed a job where my feet touched the ground. I needed to connect with the earth and the people who populated the earth. I needed adventure and excitement.
I needed to be a cop.
I had seen a cop buddy of mine leap over the bench press at the gym and hold a gun to a man’s head one night. He had previously arrested the guy, and as luck would have it they both ended up at the same gym at the same time, but mad-dogging an undercover gang detail guy, never mind threatening him? Well, you run a distinct possibility of ending up hemmed up in a just-called police cruiser.
My day that day at work? A flyer went around for a Toastmasters meeting.
I needed to get out. Of everything.
Sadly, in a very typically midlife crisis-esque way: The longtime girlfriend was tossed for a younger girlfriend. I got rid of my sensible van and bought a 1967 muscle car AND a motorcycle. I got a haircut. And lastly, I put my name in for the cop exam.
It wasn’t so much that I had any great need to do good, and my problems with authority were well documented, but being a cop felt like direct action to me. Most people avoid difficult situations. Cops and repo men seek them out. I’d been seeking them out for free for years. Why not get paid for it?
Plus, TV had me tuned up! Baretta was a cop. Crockett and Tubbs were cops. Popeye Doyle was a cop. I should be a cop.
The day of the exam I showed up at a nearby city. A gaggle of young men and women around my age shifted nervously in the early morning. Some with clipboards, notepads, No. 2 pencils, pens. They looked a lot like my friends from the gym. But most of my friends from the gym were cops. Or were criminals. They were my friends too, I guess.
Ushered in, we took our seats and were off to the races. The test? Well, the SAT was harder. But I aced it. I knew I aced it. I was a 240-pound, weightlifting, Federal Firearms License holder, and martial artist who had worked as a bouncer and had friends in the department I was trying to test into. And confidence breeds success and success breeds confidence.
“They’re going to call you in next.”
I don’t know if my cop friend, he of the bench-press leap, had an inside line on knowing this, but he winked one day heading into the gym and I was happy. I was, somehow, going to do what men were put on this earth to do. Some version of protect. Some version of serve.
And they did call me in. A Latino cop led the interview. Other cops were ranged around the table. These were the real deal and had that cop thing in full effect: They all looked like they were prepared to not believe a word I was saying. Which, for some reason, always cracked me up.
The interview went well. Right up until we hit the hypotheticals.
“You’re pulling into a strip mall at lunchtime,” the Latino officer leaned toward me. “And you see a woman backing out of a sandwich shop with a gun in her hand. What do you do?”
I suspected this was a trick question. I just didn’t know whether the trick was that she was a woman, that it was a crowded place or that she had a gun.
“I block the mall parking lot off and call for backup?” I didn’t know how but what I said had fallen short of the mark.
“Anything else?” The air in the beige room hung and the cops looked at me, dead-eyed.
“I’m unfamiliar with police procedure exactly,” I said, “but ask her to drop her firearm?”
“Clear people from the area?”
He had had it. “Would you have a hard time SHOOTING her?”
Oh. That was the answer he was looking for, and then my answer, probably given a little too quickly, “Oh, NO!”
They started folding up their folders in what felt like slow motion.
“Thanks for your time.”
And that was it.
A few weeks later I got a letter that I jammed into my briefcase with the rest of my mail. I was late for work.
I got to my desk and started opening up my mail. Apparently, I was not cop material. The next letter? An invite to a company intersquad volleyball game during lunchtime. Outside. In the sun. I RSVP’d. What did I have to lose?