Walking in the Dairy Aisle
Do you have a most memorable time that you went to buy milk? I do. Buying milk, for me, used to be a fairly ordinary thing. It isn’t today mainly because I don’t really use it anymore. Like most Americans, I had a habit of pouring milk on breakfast cereal. We all grew up with that. As it turns out, that is not the most healthy breakfast, but this isn’t about that. This is about buying milk where you shop, which is usually near where you live.
This particular event of buying milk came to mind in light of recent events in policing around our country, and specifically with some of the events that happened around that time for me.
I had an incident that had many similar elements to the Ma’Khia Bryant incident that occurred here in Ohio last week. The Ma’Khia Bryant incident has become part of the restructuring discussion regarding policing, and for good reason. We are all familiar with the incident, and we have our various thoughts about how restructuring should happen. Those discussions need to continue, because the status quo can not continue the way that it has been going. But, this isn’t going to be about that. This is about my similar incident, and buying milk. So, I’ll start with a important consideration about restructuring, and fade into the incident.
Derek Chauvin, who, by now, needs no introduction, did not live in the jurisdiction that we worked as a police officer. That is part of the restructuring discussion, and it should be. Chauvin was not part of the community that he policed, and that is seen as contributing to the bad way in which he performed his job. That may very well be true. I can’t dispute it. I’m here to say that in my time as a copper, I lived mainly outside of the jurisdiction that I worked. And for about a year, I lived within it. I actually even lived within the division. Here is how that all played out.
Starting out, I lived in Newport Beach, California. It is a rather present place, if you’re not familiar. I lived a fairly short walk from the beach, which is why I chose to live there. I once estimated that I was at the beach 300 out of 365 days on the average. I wasn’t always running in the surf, wearing linen. Some days I was just too exhausted to do anything but sit on a lifeguard station, but those were the most important days. On days/nights when I was nearly catatonic with exhaustion, I could sit on the beach, and listen to the roar of the waves crashing on the shore. Waves are not a piercing loudness. It is more of an enveloping loudness, which is more comforting than disturbing. You would usually not even know how loud it was unless you were trying to hear someone talk while sitting wight next to you. And in addition to the sound was what little humidity existed in Southern California, so you got a bit of a warm massage by the breeze. My description may not quite connect, but trust me when I say, it was relaxing. That described most of my nights at the beach. 20 or 30 minutes would do the trick, and the city was soothed out of my psyche.
Newport Beach was 51 miles from where I worked, so that was a bit of a haul. If I drove into the city early in the morning, I could make it in 46 minutes. With a regular mount of traffic at any other time, it took about an hour and a half. On a day with slightly bad traffic, it took 2 and a half hours. Those did not happen often, but they were not rare either. So, working and living so far apart required a routine, because being late was not an option. If I could plan for it, I’d go in very early and do a variety of things. On the daily, one of those things included picking up and dropping off uniforms at the dry cleaners which was just a couple of blocks from the station. I could workout at the gym in the station, and all sort of other things. I also always kept an overnight bag packed behind my driver seat, just in case a night went long, and the next day was coming too quickly. I slept in the station bunk room plenty of times.
One day, after several years of doing that, I had one of those deals that lands in the lap of so many officers. This involved a really nice building in Hollywood, which couldn’t have been a mile from the station. It was in it bordered West Hollywood, near the Sunset strip. Very nice new building in a very nice area. I was offered a substantial reduction of the price in order to just be an officer who lived in the building. It made the company that owned the building comfortable, and the resident manager as well. This was a fairly common practice, technically against the rules for the LAPD. ANYWAY…the prospect of chopping down that daily routine and eliminating the commute seemed pretty cool. I wasn’t the former Marine, midwestern kid anymore. I was an LAPD veteran, and I could do without 300 days at the beach every year.
My partner at that time was a dude that I didn’t like. He was a very senior officer, and an expert in narcotics, if I remember correctly. He was a genius police officer. He knew things, he knew people, and he was maybe the funniest person I have ever met. The problem was that he was also the biggest asshole I have ever met. He wasn’t like Soldier of Fortune guy that I discussed in another post. This guy, was just the type of reason who liked to express his negative views about people, share them with you, and try to get you to agree with him. He said horrible things constantly that I just had a personal objection to. He’d repeat them unnecessarily. For instance, whenever a reference was made to a patrol team with two women, Gene would say, “tuna boat”. We might hear the RTO call out a car that had two women and Gene would unfailingly say, “tuna boat”.
I wouldn’t respond. I usually kept my face turned to the window. He knew how I felt about it, which is why he’d keep saying it. When I didn’t respond, he’d say, “right bud? Tuna boat. Heh-heh, tuna boat. Right bud”. He called me “Bud” a lot. I don’t know why. I didn’t care then, and I don’t now. I hope you detect the idiotic way of his manner. I hope he sounds like an idiot. He did sound like an idiot. He wasn’t though. Gene was an extremely smart man. Freaking brilliant.
Anyway, when I mentioned to Gene, in an unguarded moment, that I was moving into the division, I guess I had a human moment and I wanted someone to express some enthusiasm about something that I liked. Gene just went into his moronic voice. “Bad idea, Bud. Don’t do it. Don’t do it, Bud.” Well, I did it. And it wasn’t long after I had moved in that we got called to my new apartment building. It was probably a couple of months later, but still quite new. I remember seeing the address pop up on our MDT (Mobile Digital Terminal). Usually we had 5 calls at any one time on the MDT, prioritized A,B,C,D,E. This call to my building was our top priority and I said, “hey, that’s my building.” Gene said, we’ll sell that call”. That meant sending it back to the RTO, and suggesting another patrol team take it. I insisted. This is what the resident manager wanted me in the building for. Gene overrode me. “Don’t do it, Bud.” I insisted again, and we went.
When we got there, the message said to see the manager, which was standard for a building like that. As it turned out, the incident involved the manager and her daughter. She and her 18 year old daughter had been arguing, and the daughter was on the verge of violence. The mom called the cops. When we got the the manager’s apartment, she was alone. Gene and I stood next to the woman while she told the story, one on either side. Honestly, I don’t recall a single detail of what she said because the incident quickly became about the daughter’s entrance.
While we were talking to mom, the daughter came running in with a kitchen knife. We spun toward the daughter. She had the knife in her right hand. I grabbed her left arm with my left hand, yanked her in the direction that she was running, and grabbed the back of her collar with my right hand…and rode her to the ground. First, my right forearm was parallel with her spine in her upper back. Then I grabbed each wrist and cuffed her. Then we picked her up, and I asked her, “what the fuck were you thinking? You could have been shot”. If that were a larger room, or if we were outdoors, she might have been. We were so close that there was no time to draw.
So, once we cuffed her up, mom wigged out. “Bill, what are you doing?” “I’m taking her to jail.” The rest of the conversation went something like, ‘But I thought…’, and my response was, all bets are off when someone commits a crime.
Gene didn’t say anything until the daughter was booked and put away. “I told you, Bud.” “Those situations never work out right.” “I told you, Bud. Didn’t I tell you?” Gene was right. It didn’t make me hate him any less.
Sometime later I needed to get some milk. I went to a grocery store close by, because that is what you do, right? Nobody drives out of town to buy groceries. Well, I went over some milk the way most people do. I went to the dairy aisle where the milk is kept. Nothing at this point was extraordinary because I have no visual memory of it. My visual memory kicks in right when I reached into a refrigerator for a gallon of milk. I grabbed the handle with my right hand, and I reached with my left. I was looking at a bottle that was just above eye-level. As I am reaching in, and the door is opened to my right, right elbow pointing backwards, cold air from the inside of the fridge blows against my face, then someone lightly grabs my right elbow to get my attention. From the direction of the grab comes the question, “hey, aren’t you that cop?”
In the first split second, I had no idea who the person was. I did not know the voice, and the voice did not know my name. What worse, I didn’t know if this was someone I had fought, or jailed, or found their lost kid. I was prepared for the worst case. I let go of the milk and spun so fast that the person’s eyes popped. My right hand dropped to my waist which held a gun, concealed in a case that looked like it wasn’t for a gun. As it turned out, my interaction was quite innocuous. I think it was something the person wanted to thank me for. Those details are lost to time. What remains is that the incident was incredibly alarming. The situation was understood by the person without much explanation. It was perfectly innocent, and, given the circumstances, badly executed. There was an awkward smile, and then I said…
“Yeah, I’m that cop.”