Mid-afternoon at the beach.
The tide was rolling in here at Fort Walton with little fanfare, the repetitious sounds of its crash-and-recession soothing to all present, the waves having barely enough force to erase footprints in the unusually white sand. In years past I’d seen water coming in that seemed as if it could crush a small car, but this year (or day) the wind was so light I was surprised I didn’t see toddlers at the waterline.
The sun was hours away from the horizon and a warm breeze swept east to west as I sat back watching the shoreline with mild interest in its activities, focusing on how grateful I was to be here, away at last from our landlocked home in Tennessee. We have lakes and rivers that I make great use of, but like a good Cuban cigar…there’s a huge difference. Such was the mood I decided my biggest problem for once was “what to do?” and I loved it.
As if on cue, a man in his mid-40s strolled down from the hotel bar that perched above the sand and walked with poorly masked discomfort towards the waterline, a large funny-shaped glass in his hand filled with orange liquid and capped with an umbrella and an oversized straw.
His forearms were a deep tan that stopped just above the elbow, and resumed above his collar line. This led up to cheap sunglasses and a high and tight crew cut, and I knew right away—I was no longer the only off-duty cop on the beach.
It’s a strange thing, being a cop. You’re never allowed to be completely off duty. I mean literally; it’s written in the rules that we always have a duty to act and are considered on-call all the time, every time. So when we’re away from our homes (jurisdictions), it’s not surprising that we have no idea how to act. The first sign of this is the fact that we don’t know how to dress.
The reason for the cheap suits is obvious (pay), but being out of style is a direct result of not getting a chance to wear out our civilian clothing, and not seeing others outside of work enough to have any idea of what is new anyway.
The average cop has one suit of a neutral color that is fitting at both funerals and weddings. If he has more than one, it’s a direct result of weight gain (or loss, don’t laugh) over the years (plural) of having it in a closet. The suit even usually smells like a closet, that weird mix of cedar and mothball you wrinkle your nose up at but accept as a price of doing business. And why deal with this? Because only a cop would argue about paying $200 for a suit but not hesitate to spend $1,000 on a pistol he can’t even carry, much less has need of. How do you fight that? (No, really, I’d like to find out some day.)
Everyday clothes? I don’t feel it’s necessary to address the obligatory cop-oriented T-shirts that line the closets, floors, and trunks of cops’ personal spaces everywhere. Family gifts of police-related shirts and free T-shirts are as much a part of the job as digestive tract issues and lawsuits…but belts and shoes? No such excuse.
A cop in an un-tucked T-shirt (or the dreaded Hawaiian) may hide what is almost certainly a black woven or (God help him) black Velcro belt threaded through his blue jeans belt loops (the sturdy belt being to secure a gun, and the un-tucked status is to cover it up), but the black combat boots that he chose to complete the ensemble…? Boom. Cop.