“Muffin top?” he said. “it looks more like her can of biscuits exploded.”
I was already slack-jawed in disbelief of what he said before he was even finished, because we were literally standing next to the very obvious target of his observation. She turned towards us, her own look of horror surpassing my own, but lasting only a few seconds before it turned into a snarl of unconcealed rage. “Sweet Jesus,” I thought, “Why do I even talk to this guy?”
I don’t have any particular problem with someone being an ass; I am a card-carrying “ass” myself. It doesn’t necessarily make someone a bad person, it just makes them blunt. But being that blunt when you are very conspicuously adorned from head to toe in an agency-provided police uniform comes with certain conditions.
I instinctively placed my palm over my face, but I never so much as entertained the thought that it would ever conceal my identity, because it’s guys like me (the “nice ones”) that wind up with the inevitable complaint, not the other guy.
“That’s not what he meant,” I reflexively said, if anything just to confuse the situation so that I could make our exit a hasty one. As if on cue her look of rage showed a glimmer of confusion as she cocked her head to one side in consideration of this, and I grabbed my partner’s arm and motioned him towards the restaurant door.
“You’re killing me, man.”
“What?” my partner said.
It’s funny how desensitization affects some cops.
It does not seem unreasonable to bring up a beheading you may have seen at this location in the past despite the fact that “normal people” are around who may find such a discussion, no matter how nostalgic, to be inappropriate. Or in this case, to point out what a poor decision it was for a young woman to wear a midriff-exposing T-shirt when an industrial tarp would’ve been more suitable, and she was within five feet of the verbalization. Or directly beside us in a checkout line … I mean close. Despite attempts otherwise by concerned citizens called “Democrats,” it’s perfectly normal to “think” something like this, to have an opinion or make an observation about something impolite. It’s just not nice to say it out loud. Sometimes. Ever.
Anyway, that magic “polite switch” in some of us just gets cut off after a while, and for fewer still it just gets smashed with a baseball bat like a dinner guest of Al Capone, never to be turned back on again. At some point, it just seems reasonable to say unreasonable things, and to be genuinely confused when this turns out to not be the case. This certainly isn’t exclusive to cops—we just get in a shit-load more trouble when we say things we shouldn’t have said.
“I don’t get it,” my partner said. “I was just saying.”
“Clint, you just can’t … you … It would be best if you were just quiet.” He shrugged; for him, that’s a breakthrough.
The first time I caught myself doing the same was years ago at a Waffle House on evening shift. They’d just pulled a body out of the water near what is now the Boathouse Restaurant, “and some genius decided not to put the body bag in the water and lift the body out inside it,” I said quickly. “They decided to lift the body out of the water into the bag, and as soon as this diver grabs it by the arm, blammo! It de-gloved from the elbow up!” We start (quietly) laughing and I said, “So there this guy is staring at the human glove in his hand and the victim’s got a goop-covered skeleton arm now and that’s when the vomiting started …”
The older man behind us stared at his A-1 Sauce-covered patty melt and ketchup-covered hash browns, set the sandwich down, and went to the register to pay for his uneaten meal as I connected the dots. “Oops.”
It’s easy to let manners slip—or your whole mind to slip, for that matter. You just need to keep an anchor point: perspective. Or a well-balanced, polite guy like me around. Patty melt, anyone?
Alex Teach is a full-time police officer of nearly 20 years experience. The opinions expressed are his own. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/alex.teach.