A few minutes past 7a.m. the other morning there came a heavy pounding on the heavy wooden door of Dr. David’s solid brick house in Swarthmore.
Swarthmore is the petite, idyllic, suburban Philadelphia home to the top brainy liberal arts college in the country. Little more than flowers coming out and reading lights coming on happen along its unfettered sidewalks in bucolic Delaware County.
In fact, long time resident Dr. David didn’t even know the municipality had a police department until some seven months earlier when he happened not to come to a complete pause at a corner stop sign one late fall evening. Then a Swarthmore municipal police officer, an extremely polite female, gave him a citation.
Her demeanor so impressed the 64-year-old Dr. David that he bragged about it in his low-key humor. He told his wife that he was late getting home because a well-defined woman, almost as nattily uniformed as Dr. David is every work day, had stopped him to get his name, address and the rest of his vitae.
But this Tuesday morning, Dr. David’s wife, answered the pounding on the door, to find a burly, gruff, taciturn police officer somewhat overfilling the entrance.
Apparently he just stood there glowering until Dr. David’s wife, a psychologist for learning disabled, had to prompt the officer as to how she could help him.
The officer growled: “I need to see your husband!”
Apparently so do a lot of people in these days of so much craziness. After all, he is a psychiatrist. A busy one, at that. And as she has often mused facetiously: Half of David’s patients saw him because they’re married. And the other half because they’re not.
But she couldn’t see if the officer was wearing a wedding ring. She also couldn’t see his identifying name tag; that’s because, he wasn’t wearing one. Odd, she thought. And she also noticed that in the bend in the driveway was his police car – from the Springfield Township police. So he wasn’t a Swarthmore municipal officer.
Dr. David’s wife again queried: “May I tell him what this is concerning, officer?”
After all, patients never come to the house. It’s a home rule for sanctuary. David provides his psychiatric care 6-days a week at three different offices in Philadelphia. And, economically speaking — as one of David’s many work jokes goes — a psychiatrist asks a lot of expensive questions that a wife asks for nothing.
The officer again groused:” Is your husband home?!”
And when the spouse arched an eyebrow, as she has done to admonish wayward students, the hefty officer, perhaps 30 years her junior, finally squeezed out with what was ostensibly squeezed in beneath the hat and uniform: “It’s about his car!”
At that Dr. David appeared, inserting the links into the French cuffs of his pin-striped dress shirt. The early morning was still thick and humid from yesterday’s rain.
The officer didn’t introduce himself. And Dr. David, also noticed, like his wife had, that the officer had no name and rank ID-plate pinned to his uniform.
And with no ceremonious preamble the officer, noticeably perturbed and annoyed, instantly burped out words that Dr. David found simply abrupt, impetuous discomfiting, totally fabricated and downright mystifying. It smelled like a bad case of mental halitosis. In fact it smelled putridly institutional — similar to the West Philadelphia community house where he provides mental health services to the indigent.
The officer literally snarled that: “The garbage men told me you were driving recklessly yesterday morning! …That you knocked over the mail box!…That you almost hit them…That you were disheveled…That you sped off!…”
The officer’s staccato spewed on and on qualifying his vituperation with: The garbage men said this and the garbage said that…
“They said you could have hit them…!” continued the officer’s unbridled disgorge. “That you were dangerous…”
At that Dr. David had had enough. The officer never introduced himself. He never asked for his driver’s license, registration, insurance card… or anything… He just went off about what the garbage men said. One of those could-have, would-have, should-have stories that amounted to a nothing-happened, particularly nothing -happened the way the officer was reiterating.
“Did they tell you I could have hit everybody on the block?…or could have detonated a nuclear bomb?…or should have given them a written note absolving them of blame?…” Dr. David, retorted with obvious sarcasm. “What seems to be the problem officer? Nothing happened … What is this all about? Really?…”
And Dr. David wondered what made the garbage men suddenly so creditable in a non-event. This smelled awfully devious, especially for something no one else noticed or witnessed. And especially when absolutely nothing really happened.
Dr. David tried to explain that yesterday morning in the rain as he was pulling out to the street from his driveway the garbage truck was blocking his view. So in trying to look around it, he accidentally brushed against his mailbox that is posted on his property. He got out of the car in the rain, pushed the askew box somewhat upright and shrugged to the garbage men to indicate that he’d simply fix the darn thing when he got home after the rain stopped. Then he drove off.
That was that. Yet in an age when pizzas show up faster than police, here was a policeman at his door at 7 in the morning. And for what?
Furthermore, one look at the immaculately groomed doc in his tailored grey work suit clearly indicates that, of all things, this natty dresser could never be described as disheveled.
But the officer would have nothing of it.
“This can go down three ways,” snarled the township policeman through reddening jowls. “I can send you a ticket for reckless driving and endangering lives…”
Dr. David was finding this very bizarre. More uncanny than some of his raging patients in desperate need of anger management. Or heavy sedation. In other words what do you do…who do you call when the police are acting like your patients?
“Or,” the policeman’s stentorian voice continued, “I could arrest you right now….”
At that Dr. David had just about had enough. He simply put his hands together, held them high and uttered in resignation, the fait accompli: “Go ahead, arrest me. Go ahead…This could prove rather embarrassing in front of your commanding officer… see what happens to you. Go ahead, arrest me…”
Dr. David said his intention was to perhaps jolt the policeman into thinking about what a jeopardizing predicament he was creating.
Meanwhile, when Dr. David talks, at times, he is one of those fellows from whom specks of spittle will occasional fly. Alas, this was one of those times. And both he and the beefy officer paused in their theatrics for the moment to stare down at the microbe, the nano-size micro-dot on the officer’s shirt.
Dr. David lowered his surrendered hands and politely tried to flick away the speck, just as he has, at times, done for one of his patients. At that the officer went volcanic. Like a hastily overinflated tire the cop apparently popped and spewed more than Mt. Vesuvius down on Pompeii.
“Don’t you ever touch me!” snapped the gendarme. “I’m going to charge you with aggravated assault!…”
And on and on he huffed and puffed and blew Dr. David’s once-pleasant early morning away. No doubt a good thing the house was made of bricks.
At that the officer stomped back to his official township sedan, screaming tires and all eight cylinders on his way out. Dr. David was only glad the garbage men weren’t in his reckless way.
As Dr. David related the story I stopped my old pal for a rewind: “What was the third way?” I asked. “The officer said this could go down three ways…”
Dr. David paused and chewed his cud: “I don’t know. He never said.”
So I postured a possibility. It’ seems like the old shake down scam. He wanted you to make a donation. Perhaps to the garbage men. And, of course, he would partake … You know, to make all the paperwork go away…”
Dr. David was dumbfounded. The lawman obviously isn’t very good at this, I said. He needs more dress rehearsals. He probably figured you were some wimpy, rich doctor who would be glad to pay anything to get him outta your face. It’s the old David and Goliath story. You were supposed to be the geek and roll over. Trouble is, you turned out to be a real David…”
“I never thought of that,” said Dr. David. “You never think this sort of thing is going to actually happen to you.”
What he meant was he deals with all types of real craziness all day, most every day. So while he is rarely surprised, sometimes something rare does occur that wasn’t anticipated. Especially over something so innocuous. At his home!
But, life is life, doc. You can’t do anything about the odd changes in the weather.
A week or so later, believe it or not, the officer’s complaint came in the mail. Dr. David called his lawyer. The lawyer could only say: “Wow. In all my time of legal practice this is the most wacky.”
The lawyer said this is going to end up costing the township hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Dr. David just wants the officer to be dismissed and get help. He shouldn’t be armed and in the public domain.
I cautioned the doc that if matters really go badly for the asinine cop (especially in the upcoming court date scheduled for mid August) revenge always ravages the savage mind. And, of course, there is still the matter of his putative accomplices – the garbage men. You know, one man’s trash is another’s treasure.
Hmm… Maybe you ought to start packing some heat, doc.
Now, more than ever, Dr. David told me that he realizes most middle-class whites have no idea what it feels like to be subjected to police who are routinely suspicious, rude, belligerent and brutal. And perhaps, as had been speculated in his particular case, just a tad corrupt. And he wondered again out loud: Who will protect us when the police violate the law?
Put me in coach. I wanna kill my dinner.
Look, I am known for usually taking the policeman’s side. But of late in the news there just seems to be too many sides to take. That includes the NYPD now facing a $210 million dollar law suit for allegedly abusing and literally manhandling a beauty queen over harassing car registration charges. And copious wanna-be’s and rent-a-cops like George Zimmerman. And then there is the notorious LAPD most any time in history. The drum roll gets expansive…
Perhaps it simply comes down to something akin to what my dear ol’ Pappy once exhaled between those omnipotent puffs on his omniscient corn cob pipe: Any cop who goes to a psychiatrist ought to have his head examined.
And dats yDrewIS on dis penal colony…