Fund the Police . . . And Others, Too

I have avowed or suggested or implied that a police officer was a liar, had been incompetent, had been less than bright, had used excessive force, had been brutal. I have been personally wary and fearful when I have seen a cop. But I respect the police and what they do.

I didn’t have any contact with the police in the small town where I grew up until I was halfway through high school. Then one day I was asked to go the police station after school where I was questioned by detectives. The crime being investigated had occurred in my girlfriend’s neighborhood. I had dropped Wendy off the previous night. (Of course, I had walked her to the door; I was a young gentleman.) I had been driving my father’s two-toned Oldsmobile, and apparently a neighbor thought that the car had been involved in some sort of incident on the previous night. I seldom drove that or any other car, and although the police kept me for an hour, I was eventually dismissed. Perhaps it was my teenage arrogance (which did not necessarily end with my teenage years), but I was never concerned or scared or apprehensive. I was, after all, innocent. I thought it mostly amusing.

My other contact with a police officer in high school was more informal. On summer mornings I umpired younger kids’ baseball games that were held at what was once a minor league stadium. The program was supervised by a police officer, who, after his midnight-to-eight shift, came to the ballpark. He seemed like a nice guy, but I was shy around adults and learned little about him or his work. I regret my inability to talk more with him. I wonder now what it was like to patrol my hometown and the stories he might have shared. I did not think then about who his friends were or about his family. The kids I hung out with came from a wide economic swath of the town. My friends’ parents worked in factories, were tool and die makers, cabinetmakers, barbers, factory owners, lawyers, bankers, tavern owners, manufacturers’ representatives, physical education teachers, insurance salesmen, clergy, and jewelers. But I knew no one whose parent was a police officer. Whatever world this police officer and his colleagues inhabited, it was completely separate from my world.

I had no contact with the police at my isolated university either. I don’t remember ever seeing an officer on the campus. The police certainly did not seek to enforce the drinking laws. As long as we were on college property, we could have our beer and scotch. This only meant finding a senior to buy the goods and carry it across the street from the liquor store onto the campus. (Done in those genteel days without a fee or surcharge other than one beer for the senior.) There were drinking rules on the campus; underage students were not to drink openly on campus, but it was ok in rooms and certain outdoor places. This restriction was loosely enforced by university security personnel called proctors, and violations were usually met with a mere reprimand. Something more severe, such as breaking a bottle or window, might cause a report to a dean. Never once did it occur to us that such behavior could cause an arrest and trip to the precinct headquarters or to court—something I only thought about a decade later when, working as a public defender, I realized that comparable street corner actions in New York often brought out the handcuffs.

In my college years, I did have one contact with the police. I was sharing driving duties with classmates as we drove from New Jersey to Chicago, and I was stopped by an unmarked car for speeding (which I was) on the turnpike in the middle of Pennsylvania. I was asked to get into the cop car and was driven to a Justice of the Peace where I paid a fine while my college colleagues waited for my return. (I was a little miffed that they did not offer to pick up part of the fine since all of us drove over the speed limit.) I was polite and mostly quiet with the officer. As we got to the court, he said, “I could have charged you for going more than fifteen miles an hour over the limit, and I would have, if you were a wiseass, but you haven’t been.” I thanked him and said, “I was being careful to keep it at thirteen or fourteen miles too fast. I only went above fifteen because I saw you behind me and sped up to get in front of some cars in the right lane to pull over and let you get by me.” He smiled a bit. What I most remember about the drive from the turnpike to pay the fine was that this was my first sight of Appalachia and that many of the houses’ sagging porches looked as though they were being held up by a wash line strung between the corner posts.

Primarily, however, as I left college, I had given little consideration to the police, who they were, where they came from, how they learned their job, or the work they did. I, like almost anyone of my generation, had seen the televised police brutality with civil rights demonstrators, but that was in the South. I assumed that the South was a world apart.

I chose to go to law school in Chicago over what some assumed were more prestigious law schools elsewhere.  After growing up in a little Wisconsin town and going to college in a small, isolated New Jersey village, I wanted to live in a city. The University of Chicago certainly provided me with a new atmosphere. It was a beautiful campus in a beautiful neighborhood, but that neighborhood was small and bordered “ghettoes,” which meant black neighborhoods. We were told that these were not safe for university students, which meant young white people. This was the first time that I lived in a community where people were concerned about crime and their personal safety. These concerns, however, did not cause me to reflect much on the police. They did not seem to me to be my protector; they couldn’t really protect me if I were to become a victim. This was confirmed the first time I was mugged.

I lived in a terrible one-room, one-window apartment with a decrepit bed that came out of the wall. There was no air conditioning and the window faced a brick wall three feet away. During that first hot summer, the apartment was unbearable. I got up one night from my sweat-soaked mattress and decided to make an after midnight walk in hopes of catching a breeze. Instead, I was confronted by teenagers with knives who demanded money. They got it, but they agreed that I could keep my wallet when I said that I didn’t want to have to replace my papers. One said he wanted my watch. I said that a friend had only given it to me a week ago (true) and I would not give it up. The leader smilingly nodded to me, and they ran away without it.

It never occurred to me that a police officer should have or could have prevented this incident. The mugging took just a few moments, and it would have been the barest coincidence if a cop had been nearby when it happened. That was driven home twenty years later when I was robbed at knifepoint again, this time on the Brooklyn block where I live. I was walking from the subway to my home after work on a winter evening when a man walked past me, turned, and blocked my path. He made sure I saw the knife in his right hand and quietly, but menacingly, demanded my money. He got it, but again I retained the wallet. This only took a few moments. Other people were out on the block. I could see my next-door neighbor over the mugger’s shoulder. She yelled hello. She could not see the knife held by the man I was apparently chatting with. I merely nodded in response, and my robber sprinted off after getting my twenty dollars.

(continued Sept. 30)

A Sausage Made It Famous

          Sheboygan is famous for one thing, at least in its eyes. No, it’s not me even though I was born and raised there.

          Sheboygan, Wisconsin, sits on the shores of Lake Michigan halfway between Milwaukee and Green Bay, about fifty miles from each. Growing up this location was a boon. We could get television stations from both places, but this was the days of over-the-air and required an antenna. The father installed a rotor that could shift the antenna’s direction south towards Milwaukee or north towards Green Bay. Most often, this did not matter much because each city had the three networks showing the same shows, and while Milwaukee had an independent station, the networks were where it was at.

Occasionally, the rotor would malfunction, and the father would get out a long ladder and climb onto the roof to make adjustments. This being snow country, the roof was steeply pitched. I should have been concerned that this job held some danger, but I had a child’s faith in his father. The repairs, however, were a three-person job. With him on the roof, one of us watched the TV and shouted when the rotor had the antenna in exactly the right position to get Milwaukee. Another of us would be outside the window and relayed the message to the roof man. Then the inside person would move the rotor through some sort of device towards Green Bay, and the same shouting ensued.

          This rotor business was essential for one very, very important reason—the Green Bay Packers. I can hardly overstate the obsession with the Lombardi-era team of my youth, although a similar obsession for each era of Packers has continued. Back then, Green Bay played half its home games in Green Bay and half in Milwaukee. The NFL then had a blackout policy that prevented hometown television stations from broadcasting games for a team’s home games. However, Green Bay was outside the blackout zone when the Packers played in Milwaukee, and the CBS station could carry Ray Scott announcing the game, and the Milwaukee station carried it when the game was in Green Bay. With that blessed rotor we could get all the games in the comfort of our home. (The Packers have played many famous games. Among them is the Ice Bowl when the Packers met the Dallas Cowboys for the NFL championship on the last day of 1967. On that morning, the father got a call from an acquaintance and was asked whether he wanted to go. Showing wisdom I did not always give him credit for, he declined and said that we would watch the game from the comfort of home. It was not that we were not experienced with cold. The average high for three winter months in Sheboygan was in the mid-twenties with the average low fifteen degrees colder. Whenever there was a cold snap, we would wake up to below-zero days, and I can regale you, as I have the NBP (nonbinary progeny) and the spouse many times, about how I walked to school in that cold, although I lied if I ever said that I had to do it without shoes. We knew cold, but we also had an understanding of cold, and December 31, 1967, was extraordinary. The temperature at kickoff was minus fifteen, but, of course, there was a wind, which plunged the wind chills into the minus forty ranges. I can go on about that game, but you can read about in the pioneering book by Jerry Kramer, who made the key block, and Dick Schaap, Instant Reply, but I don’t think that book contains this nugget. In those long-ago days, spectators could carry beer into the stadium. I was told that those who did found their six-packs frozen before the first quarter ended. For Wisconsites, that brought on real suffering. But I digress. Let me move onto my next digression.)

          For me, however, the defining aspect of Sheboygan was not that it was a half-way point between two other places but that it was on Lake Michigan. Those who consider a place like Wisconsin flyover country do not understand the beauty, power, and importance of the Great Lakes (or the Mississippi River.) I spent many hours on the shore and piers of Lake Michigan. (My bedroom has a series of pictures of the Sheboygan lighthouse.) My childhood would have been much different without Lake Michigan (and the myriad inland lakes, Elkhart Lake, Crystal Lake, Little Crystal Lake, Random Lake, and many others within a half-hour of the hometown.) Whenever I returned after leaving Sheboygan, I would first head to Lake Michigan and drive up the lakeshore starting at the Armory where the Sheboygan Redskins played in the first year of the National Basketball Association (you can look it up) past the beach and up the hill to Vollrath Bowl before heading home. (There is a lot of good literature about the oceans, seas, rivers, lakes, marshes, and swamps. I don’t know any about the Great Lakes. Give me suggestions if you know some.)

(continued June 3.)

Snippets

I thought that Ross Perot, who recently died and is now largely forgotten, looked like Howdy Doody, but Howdy had a more engaging more personality. And sometimes I lie awake at night listening for that “giant sucking sound.”

If the 2016 election brought increased sales for Brave New World and 1984, will the arrest of Jeffrey Epstein do the same for the marvelous and deeply disturbing Lolita? Or for The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel that Scandalized the World by Sarah Weinman that chronicles the abduction of a young girl, an episode that mirrors and may have influenced Nabokov’s book?

I am Donald J. Trump.

I never admit a slump.

My cheeks are pink, my hair is sleek,

Of my brain, thou shalt not speak.

The handyman had come to look at a small project. I was wearing an anti-Trump shirt. He said that he liked it. I replied that I was careful where I wore it. He said that I should be because people got so angry nowadays. I realized that he had not absorbed all the writing on the shirt when he said that Trump had been sent from God. He had only limited times to do the job this week because of church obligations and volunteer work at a Christian radio station. He was an evangelical. And he was black.

I don’t understand many things. For example, I don’t understand many Americans’ fascination with British royalty.

A reason that I am not a conservative: I do not believe that wealth equates with moral worth.

My ears perked up when I heard that the podcast Planet Money was reporting from where I grew up, Sheboygan, Wisconsin. The story focused on how employees in a time of strong employment were gaining power. To illustrate its point, it discussed Kohler Company, which the podcast said was in Sheboygan, and interviewed one of its workers. I wanted to correct the report. As a native of Sheboygan, I never would have said that Kohler is in Sheboygan. It’s in the village of Kohler, which is in Sheboygan County, but not Sheboygan. Sheboygan and Kohler are separate places. The studio reporter asked the man in the field where the Kohler employee might go if the workers’ demands were not met by the company. He replied, “They could go to Sargento Cheese or Johnsonville Brats.” The studio guy sounded amazed, asking, “They are all in Sheboygan?” This Sheboygan native rebelled at the affirmative reply. Sargento is in Plymouth and Johnsonville Brats is in, hold your hat, Johnsonville. Both near Sheboygan, but not in Sheboygan. But then the field reporter said with a hint of smile in his voice something I had not known from my years there, “Sheboygan is a feast for the senses.” Even so, I am not planning a move back.

My Education at DSK

I go to a bar—call it DSK, since that is its name–in my Brooklyn neighborhood. You could call it my local, and I am somewhat surprised that it is my first local since I was a teenager. I often feel that I go to this biergarten around the corner from where I live to further my education.

It seems surprising only now to have a local again because I grew up in a bar culture. My Wisconsin town had strong Germanic roots, and neighborhood taverns were everywhere. In fact, there was one next door to our house; a block away was another, and this was not unusual. Sheboygan had a population of 45,000, and it was said, over 140 drinking establishments.

The grandfather went to the one on the next block and played skat there. The father went to a different one, Dick’s Club, on the town’s main street most days after work. Neither patronized the one next door because the family had a long-running dispute with its owner over noise that emanated from its attached dance hall especially when the hall hosted the schuhplattlers with their slapping of thighs and accompanying yips and shouts.

Almost all of the bars I knew in my birth place were for the working class. (I don’t think the upper crust went to bars. Instead, they drank–a lot it always seemed to me–at home or perhaps in the country club or in establishments that I did not know existed.) My working-class family was similar to most in that we seldom had non-family guests in the home, so a bar was a place to meet friends and others.

Each bar had regulars, and the father knew almost everyone who came into Dick’s Club. (I don’t know the source of the name. The owner in the father’s time was not Dick.) The father ordered an eight-ounce, draft Pabst Blue Ribbon, then the Wisconsin working man’s beer. It was never then called PBR, and it was not drunk “ironically” as became the fashion in hipster circles. The beer, as was usual in working-class Wisconsin, was accompanied by a shot of brandy. The brandy was not one you are likely to know. E & J was considered high class, and this clientele would not drink high class booze. When I was of age, I once bought a fifth of Christian Brothers brandy as a treat for the father. He would not drink it because it cost too much, and he said that he would not appreciate it.

The bar for him was a comfortable place to discuss current events—elections and the civil rights movement and more—and to talk again and again about sports, with the father known for his dislike of the manager of the Milwaukee Braves as well as his, and everyone else’s, admiration for Vince Lombardi. (Vince comes home after a December practice and gets into bed. His wife says, “God, your feet are cold.” He replies, “Dear, at home you can call me Vince.”)

Women did not patronize the place during the work week except when families came for the Wisconsin tradition of a Friday night fish fry–breaded perch with limp French fries and coleslaw. Dick’s Club was also part of the father’s Sunday ritual. The father would drop off the siblings and me at the First Baptist Church, go to Dick’s Club, and then pick us up after the services.

I joined him once on a Sunday morning when I was home from law school and no longer a regular churchgoer. He was happy to show off to his friends the son who was going to be a lawyer. The bar then had a pool table. After we had a couple beers and shots, the father challenged me to a game. We did not grow up with the game, but I had expanded my higher education by playing a bit of pool (and billiards—it was a fancy school) at college. As we played, we had a few more beers and shots, or perhaps more than a few, but I was on fire and far ahead until the table, for some reason, became a bit fuzzy, and I aimed at a wrong ball, pocketed it, and lost the game. The old man had seen me lining up this mistake and did not utter a word although I could see that he was trying to suppress a smile. To my surprise, I found that I admired him for his reticence. He wanted to win. He wouldn’t cheat, but he wasn’t going to help me. We went home to the noontime Sunday dinner, and the mother wondered why the father and I were in such a good mood. He and I both just tried to hide our more than a little buzz and said nothing about the bar.

Children were allowed in the bars when accompanied by a parent, but I did not go to Dick’s Club often. Instead, my bar attendance started when I was eighteen. Wisconsin in those days allowed eighteen-year-olds to drink beer, but not wine or distilled spirits, and beer bars–establishments that served only beer–is where we headed, most often to The Patio, after our slow-pitch softball games. There were dice games for beers at the bar. Sometimes there was dancing. (I thought then that I was a good dancer. If my present ability is an indicator, I deceived myself. I prefer to believe, however, that my skill just deteriorated through the years as rock ‘n roll became less meaningful.) I often hoped to pick up some girl. (To protect my ego, I will not go into my attempts and my cool lines. Let’s just say I mostly failed.) I did not go for conversation. I remember only one. The guy next to me at the urinals was in the Coast Guard stationed in Sheboygan, and I thought what a disappointment it must be to join the Coast Guard, expect to see exciting places, and end up in Sheboygan. But he was eighteen and drinking, and passing, beer. He was happy.

I went to the Patio with a friend also to play the pinball machines. There were generally two there, and it was always intriguing when a new one came in as we tried to figure out the tricks to get the high scores. In those golden days, the games cost a quarter for five balls, and you got five games for four quarters. If someone was playing it, you slapped a quarter down on the surface to indicate you had next. You could stay on the machine as long as you had games remaining, and since the machines granted free games for certain scores and difficult shots, the goal was to keep getting free games to continue playing. The friend and I generally played what we considered doubles. Sometimes we alternated balls; sometimes we each took a flipper. And we were good. Often when the bar closed, the machine would indicate that we still had a raft of free games. We would try hard to be there when it opened next evening to make sure we got the freebies we had won the night before.

(Continued on September 17)