Five years ago, two days shy of the first anniversary of one of America's saddest days, I visited Ground Zero. This isn't a story about that. This is about how, on that day, I became the proud owner of a very nice Navy blue shirt with the NYPD logo embroidered on the left breast. I also have a matching hat. It's a fine looking shirt and they're both the genuine things. If you ask me how I got them, I may have to, well, never mind. Let's just say I have my "connections", if you know what I mean. I seldom wear the shirt, so it's in very good shape. One time, a friend asked me to help with a delivery at the business she managed. I happened to be wearing the shirt that day. I went outside and the truck driver got very nervous for some strange reason. Here we are in Florida, probably not where the driver was from, and the guy was clearly afraid of that shirt. Maybe, he was wanted up there, but even if I was an NYPD cop, what could I have done to him here? Make a citizen's arrest? The cops would laugh at me and tell me to go home and change into my Superman costume.
Almost without fail, whenever I'd wear it, I'd get asked the same question, "You NYPD?" I got kind of tired of coming up with an answer explaining how I came to own it, knowing that I'd have to kill them if I told them the truth, so I changed my answer.
"Retired," I'd say, and that was the end of it. Nobody asked me any more questions about it, like, what precinct and so on. Besides, I'm in my fifties and I could have easily had a long, distinguished and highly decorated career by now as one of New York's Finest. One simple response ended the discussion and I never worried too much, because these were always people I didn't know and would more than likely never see again. I knew I couldn't get in any kind of trouble, anyway. After all, I wasn't impersonating an officer, I was impersonating a retired person and anyone who is stupid enough to believe an out of shape guy like me could have been an NYPD cop is, well, let's just say I know of a certain bridge that connects Manhattan and Brooklyn I could sell them. Cheap, too.
A couple of years ago or so, I was hanging around my favorite watering hole, Spatz, in Winter Park, when an older gentleman walked in. Mind you, my days of drinking are pretty much over, but not then. The man bellied up to the bar and sat down next to me. He noticed my shirt.
"No kidding? I'm retired from the Detroit Police Department!" he said, excitedly. (At least, I think that's the city he said, but I wouldn't testify to it.) Then I thought, what if he starts talking police stuff to me? He did, like we were old pals. I've had plenty of police friends throughout the years, from chiefs to PO's, state police, sheriffs, detectives, you name it. I used to play poker and get drunk with a few of them, so I had no problem talking to the guy. We were in a bar. Bar talk is cheap.
"What were you, a patrol officer?" I asked. You know, a beat cop.
"Yup," he responded. Then, he went on to tell me how he used to take money from tow truck drivers. It was payola. Come and tow this car. Pay me. He said he made a couple of hundred bucks a week skimming that and other ways. They all did it, he said, like it was routine.
"You're kidding, right?"
"Hell, no. You were a cop. New York City. You know exactly what I'm talking about."
"Of course I do, but no matter what business I'm in, I would never take money. Never." I was offended by what he was telling me, I don't like crooked cops, but I guess I started it by lying to him about my profession in the first place and playing along with him.
"You never took any grafts? Just what did you do for the New York City Police Department?"
"Internal Affairs." I don't know why that popped out of my mouth, but suddenly, his whole demeanor changed. He stopped talking. The friendly smile disappeared. I turned to answer someone else and when I looked back, he was gone. Just like that. I don't know where he went, but I'm sure he thought I'm no pal of his. Cops don't like the IAD. I guess it's kind of like the IRS or Homeland Security sniffing around your household, asking questions. They make you feel guilty even if you didn't do anything wrong. Worse. Cops busting cops. Messing with the brotherhood. Ruining careers and stripping pensions. Even if exonerated, it's an onus that's tough to shake.
Too bad he left like that. I didn't get the chance to ask him who his superior officer was. It wouldn't have mattered. I'm sure he's retired, too. Probably owns a towing company in Miami.