Officer Alex braves the cold and ponder pens and humanity
“The biting cold.” It’s not a phrase unknown to anyone, but it certainly has more meaning to some than to others.
Under certain conditions it can slice into you like a divorce proceeding and leave you with the same immobile numbness, and those conditions are very much present on the downhill slope of an interstate highway at two o’clock in the morning when you’re distracted from the lack of feeling in your face by the realization that your pen isn’t working for the same reason your cheeks and lips aren’t.
That’s where I found myself on a cold January night under a different presidency than the current one, staring stupidly at the tip of the once highly sought-after Pilot G-2 (medium tip) pen I had in one hand while holding a thoroughly abused spiral-bound notepad in the other.
I wanted this pen to work. No, I needed this pen to work. “If the pen doesn’t work,” I was thinking, “then I can’t finish writing down this VIN number and if I can’t finish writing the VIN then I can’t get back into the cruiser and if I can’t get back into the cruiser then I am going to die here on the side of this filthy interstate amongst the pieces of broken cars and flattened fast-food cups and Copenhagen cans and and and…” (Imagine that run-on sentence with no spaces between the words for full effect, if you don’t mind.)
I was freaking out, but again, under these circumstances it was perfectly acceptable. I actually think that’s in policy. I took a few breaths (which turned out to be a bad idea because they stung) and like someone falling out of a tall building, I fixated on one specific object so that I could orient myself before certain death struck. It brought me as much comfort as one could expect.
(Who cares how it ends in real life—a coping mechanism is a coping mechanism, my last shrink said, and sometimes you just have to worry about life’s terminal velocity impacts later.)
There was coffee in my car sitting securely in a cup holder I’d drilled into my dash with a sheetrock screw (that’s a whole different story but I’ll tell you things ended with me smelling like coffee—a lot—until I did so) but I knew as soon as I got to it that it would just make my tongue feel weird the way Conoco Columbian blend tasted after cooking 12 hours on a burner, then sitting in my pre-Yeti-era container for another two as I tried to use it to both stay awake and stay warm, both efforts steadily failing with each passing second. By God it was something, though.
I shuffled back to the car, got my backup pen out of the visor, crudely scrawled the 17 characters that stood between me and certain icy doom and was indeed eventually able to wait inside my Crown Vic while a wrecker driver took his shift in the elements under the baleful glare of my headlamps, his image interrupted by the errant snowflake now and then.
He was strapping a 1995 Ford Escort to the back of his sled for its final ride into oblivion and I saw he was wearing an Atlanta Braves ball cap, a soiled short-sleeved T-shirt, jeans, and white Nikes with no socks. That’s it, unless the American Spirit cigarette dangling from his lips counted as attire.
For the second time tonight I caught myself looking at something with the same stupid fixed gaze I’d given my pen, my mind just as unable to process this information as it was earlier. “Hmph,” I said, and grabbed my lukewarm (and well-done) coffee.
Tonight’s lesson? It wasn’t about neoprene or wool or layering or that spare set of socks. It wasn’t even about “the cold.” It was that no one, and I mean no one, likes a smartass.
And as if on cue, I am promptly dispatched to another car wreck.
When officer Alexander D. Teach is not patrolling our fair city on the heels of the criminal element, he spends his spare time volunteering for the Boehm Birth Defects Center.