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February 14, 2014

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Officer Alex fondly recalls his first V-Day on the job

I was still in training the first time I worked a Valentine’s Day shift. Had I been in a relationship at the time I may have even recognized the day on the calendar, but back then it was as stimulating as Presidents’ Day or Columbus Day as far as I was concerned. so I neither knew nor cared. 

Being in training, it was the equivalent of a civilian ride-along but with two crucial differences: I had to wear an outfit that resembled a 1970s-era gas station attendant (replete with light blue polyester collars whose points nearly touched the shirt pockets), and I was ordered to do it on my own time…also known as “for free”. 

Luck of the draw placed me in East Chattanooga on midnight shift (a place I’d get to know fondly as my career moved forward) with a five-year veteran who was neither a training officer nor a pleasant man, but what was the difference? We were both prisoners, but for me it was only one night, whereas for him it was his tenth day of a 12-day shift. 

He had to clean out his passenger seat to make room for me, a maddening inconvenience for even a remotely pleasant cop, which he was not. He did so without saying a word, and only regarded me once we had fueled up what was literally the oldest police car to begin our journey into darkness. (I’m speaking literally: That place is DARK at night.)

“Bad enough I gotta work Valentine’s Day,” he said without looking. “Now I gotta work it with you in th’ car. Nothing personal, but this is just bullshit.” (He pronounced “bull” as “bool”.) I did not contest his opinions.

He continued on without need of my input: “Every year, it starts off with glossy pink jewelry ads in the papers and folk selling plastic roses with blinking lights inside ’em…even the little crack pipes with tiny flowers in them at the Golden Gallon counters finally have meaning for once,” he said, as I tried to keep my feet from sliding around on what appeared to be a stop sign bolted to the floor to cover a rusted hole. “But it always ends with a fight. No-count asses smoking up the jewelry money away, or just plain forgetting what day it is and their ol’ ladies firing them up with a mop or some shit…whatever. &#% Valentine’s Day.”

I nodded thoughtfully, but kept my mouth shut. (I was positively thick with self-preservation and common sense…then.)

The shift had begun at 10:15 p.m. and true to his word, as the hours progressed, so did the blood alcohol content of the indigenous peoples, and thus the domestics started rolling in. 

A guy on Taylor Street accidentally switched his girlfriend’s present with his wife’s; the wife found the girlfriend, the husband got between them, and ended up being savagely beaten by the both of them for his troubles. 

A woman on North Hawthorne had a ring given to her just six hours earlier stolen by her sister.

On and on this went until 3:30 a.m. or so, when we were dispatched to a domestic disorder with a knife on Camden Street, and we arrived in time to see a woman staggering across her yard swinging a long boning knife back and forth as if swatting at flies. (Unfortunately for her backwards-walking husband, he was the fly.)

The knife was of such quality that during one of her swings the actual knife blade flew out of its handle, sparkling in its arcing descent into a nearby rosebush. Such was the quality of her intoxication, however, she didn’t even notice this…but her husband did, and went from raising his arms defensively to placing one powerful punch solidly to her forehead.

I’m not sure what I expected to happen next, but what I did not expect to happen was for her to look stupidly at the empty handle for a moment, then vomit explosively from a standing position. And the officer I was riding with? He just laughed and laughed, then stood over her where she had fallen and said “That St. Ides is a BITCH, ain’t it?!” (I noticed the empty 40-oz. bottle on the porch about that time.)

She went to jail and I went home…but I remember even now thinking this can’t possibly be what the job is like.

I was wrong. It is. 

And he was right: That St. Ides is a bitch. 

Happy Valentine’s Day, Constant Readers.

(Epilogue: That cop later quit and became a successful C.P.A. in Cleveland, TN. And a few years ago, that  may have surprised me too.)

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