My father and I have the best kind of symbiotic relationship. He likes orange juice with a lot of pulp; I like mine with none. So I drink the good stuff off the top, and what he gets is that much pulpier.
I stopped in Washington DC a few weeks ago, kind of later on a Friday evening, right downtown by the museums. There was a huge crowd of people on the mall, one of those associations, policemen in favor of policemen, a good group, that raises money for widows and things like that; I think it might have been policemen in favor of policeman unity. There were people from all over the country, and they were having a memorial service; someone was going to sing Amazing Grace; probably they had a day of events leading up to it; they all looked exhausted; a lot of them were bikers.
There’s a story that should be infamous, about two Baltimore policemen who were bikers shooting each other at a bar; when was it? Could have been eight years ago now. No one I talked to about it found it as astounding as I did. That only astounded me more.
I didn’t know what this group was at first; I just had some time to kill and was walking around. Here and there on the street there were these strange groups of men, not uniformed, not bikers, drinking alcohol in public and carousing in the street. Which might not be odd in most places but took me aback, standing in Constitution Avenue as they were, on what is probably the most carefully policed couple of blocks in the world.
I have grown to love this about downtown DC, that by all estimates every square inch of its dirt is on camera, an that anything approaching a crime would be noticed and stopped within 10 minutes, that those who commit crime all know this and do so elsewhere, or maybe even avoid the area altogether, and leave the requisite trip to the Natural History Museum to their children’s’ teachers. This is why I’d stopped there–to stand up and stretch, but most of all to feel safe for a few minutes.
But here were these groups of men: no less than four of them approached me and invited me to join them, in a nice way, a polite way. I’ll take that sentence out. Something happened in the past ten years while I wasn’t looking and I really can’t make my mind up to condone it or not. So I don’t judge.
But here were these groups of men, breaking the law, but in the strangest way. Nothing about their manner said criminal, and they had none of the concealed excitement people have when they knowingly break a law, and definitely none of the evasiveness. They were a little scary: some of them were drunken and shouting, and one group stopped traffic in the street. They resembled gangs, but they were the cleanest-cut gangs you’ve ever seen. And mixed in among them were other groups of weary-looking men in dress uniforms, ignoring them completely.
Puzzled, I made my way to the mall, listened to Amazing Grace. It was a good crowd. I think it was a good group. But I really didn’t want to stay. I tried talking to one of the drivers of the black SUVs parked around the perimeter, asking him who he was driving. He refused both to answer and not to, but reached out to shake my hand. When I returned the gesture he grabbed my hand and squeezed it so hard it hurt for a good twenty minutes afterwards. “Good night,” he said. Maybe he thought I should have paid more attention to the pin he was wearing or something, but I didn’t, and I wouldn’t, given a second chance. No matter who you are, or who I am, on a public street, I can talk to you. If you think otherwise you are confused.
Shaking and massaging my hand, I did a quick lap up to gaze at the Capitol Dome and silently sympathize with a guy trying to take Reflecting Pool photos, which never come out. Especially not at night. But we try, don’t we.
There were more groups in the street as I walked back to my car, and drunker. I talked to another chauffeur who made me feel like an idealist, he was so cynical. Which was a reminder I needed at the time. Because of course these men were all police; that explained their complete lack of fear of reprisal, and their confidence in breaking the law. Where the boundaries of such an attitude lie I could not say: I suppose it depends on the individual–but thinking about this I went to my car as quickly as I could, and left town, feeling like my head was deep underwater; the water being this idea of the lawlessness of the lawman, its peculiar and distinct character; my head having nothing to do but sit under it, as there doesn’t really seem to be any place to take such an idea.
Shoutout to everybody and especially anybody who was worried about me. I am still in trouble but still going.