Photo by Jesse Gardner on Unsplash

I didn’t want to take the LL back to the Port Authority after midnight so I called a cab to get back to Manhattan.

My ride was a typical Checker cab with cracked leather seats which smelled of various biological fluids and a rear floor carpet matted down with so many spills it might as well have been leather.

The cabby was a quiet guy, but started to get some radio messages from dispatch informing him of a personal call they were passing along.

“Do you mind if I stop?”, he asked half pivoting is head.

“Nah, that’s ok”. We had already crossed the Manhattan Bridge and were half-way across the island.

And he stopped and walked over to a pay phone to make his call.

The call went on for a while. One police car pulled up and two cops got out to talk the cabby. Hmmm. A second squad car pulled up and two more cops got out.

Geez. Maybe it’s time to get out of the cab?

I did and all 4 cops (3 guys and 1 gal) pulled their weapons and pointed them at me.

“Don’t move and put your hands up on the cab”.

“I’m not”, as I slowly raised my hands above my head, pivoted back toward the cab and laid my hands on the roof.

“My identification is in my left rear pocket” as the cops with weapons drawn advanced on me. One patted me down for weapons and removed my wallet from my left rear pocket.

The process proceeded and concluded. One of the cops eased over, “You got someone who doesn’t like you. We got a call someone armed and dangerous was in the cab. You’re obviously not that guy. No offense meant.”

“None taken.”

Some back and forth followed. Lady cop was not friendly (author’s note: lady cops during the 1980s never seemed to be friendly, but then again, that was probably part of the territory then). Talking cop came back and started talking again, “Look, you wandered into something and I got some detectives down at Midtown who said I got to bring you in. So, you got a choice, if you agree to come down I’ll let you ride in the back of the car. If you don’t agree, I’ll have to cuff you and take you down anyway.” (Lady cop was basically looking me over at this point like a wolf considering tonight’s dinner.)

“If that’s my choice, then let’s go.” And we went down to Midtown South to meet Detective 1 and Detective 2.

The beginning is always different then the end. Still, many of my beginnings started at night, in the dark. I think the dark was where I felt most at home. It began that way because I liked to think of myself as a savvy guy wandering the city streets at night. This gave impetus toward chance meetings with cops in the borderlands between the city’s daytime business folks and the city’s night time denizens. In the borderlands there are only cops and not cops.

I was seeing a gal that night who was a NY Hospital security guard named Gina. She wanted to be a cop some day. Maybe a detective. Gina had some of the same Italian passion which coursed through my adolescent arteries with a complementary physical form to my own.

Gina and me didn’t talk a lot, but we were drawn to each other like opposing magnetic poles.

Gina was a stand-up gal. Literally. Before my post midnight departure we spent a fair amount of time trying to satiate our physical hunger accompanied by the remaining scents of a well-prepared pasta sauce. It was like we couldn’t take the time to actually lay in each other’s arms. I never stayed overnight and left after midnight. Most of my trips home during that time were solitary ones across the semi-deserted streets of the city. That night I did not arrive at the Port Authority at my planned departure time.

Instead I was arrested upon my arrival at Midtown South.

Checked for weapons again. Contents of my pockets placed in a big manila envelope. Finger printed. Escorted into a small room to meet Detective 1 and Detective 2.

Detective 1 sorting through the contents of the manila envelope, “So, Eddie, you're an engineering student at Columbia University”?

“Yeah.”

“So what’s the cosine of π/2?”

“Zero. How many equations in Maxwell’s equations?” Detective 2 starts snickering, but they don’t let me go until the fingerprint records show up from Riker’s Island confirming I’m not a guy wanted for killing a cop.

The desk sergeant comes over with my arrest jacket and handing it to me with a hand as big as a baseball glove gestures to the corner waste basket and says, “Hey, why don’t you do us all a favor and throw this out in that basket, huh?”

I respond, “Hey look, I can understand the caution with which you approached me if I was the guy you thought I was, even if I don’t think I look anything like him, but I got a problem. Last bus for NJ left at 3:30 and it’s now 4. If you guys can get me to NJ, I can probably dump these records.” I walked over to the garbage and dumped the arrest jacket in it’s gunmetal interior.

Detectives 1 and 2 drove me over to the Port Authority building, but declined to take me across the Hudson. For the short ride given, Detective 1 tells me a few times, “Eddie, you’re ok, ya know”.

I still got to sit in the Port Authority for about an hour and a half waiting for the start of the next business day. Nuts.

My Dad was waiting for me when I walked in, “Where the hell you been?”

“I got arrested for murdering a cop, but they let me go.”

Ha-ha (the lone wolf returns home). Do I think one of the cops would have shot me that night if I didn’t follow their directions? Probably. Police are trained to achieve compliance in situations where they have reason to believe the law is broken. In high threat situations, or if concerned a public interaction may produce a serious threat to their safety, there’s not a lot of room for debate with cops.

The years rolled on. Rox came and went. Janet came and stayed and we were now parents with a young toddler.

We’ve had times when we’ve been flush with cash. We’ve also had times when I was adding up our grocery bill at King Kullen to make sure I had enough cash to pay at the register.

Still, we were happy with our infant daughter and the small rental we had in Rocky Point even if there wasn’t a lot of extra luxuries in our life then.

The 69 Olds Toronado was slowly breaking down and it got to the point I couldn’t fix it (only 6 of the 8 cylinders were firing). I figured I’d take the car over to the auto recycling yard in Middle Island and get a few bucks for the scrap (guy receiving the title from me, “What the hell do you mean only 6 cylinders fire?”, pause, “Har, har, har” he guffawed, slapping me on the back.)

The trip there had not been uneventful.

Suffolk County police pulled me over at the Rt. 25A intersection. Upon request for license, registration, etc. I told him I had just cleaned the car out as it couldn’t really run adequately anymore and was driving the car to the junkyard to save the tow fee. Officer said it should have been towed anyway and came back with 3 or 4 tickets, which I couldn’t fix and really couldn’t pay. I was pretty pissed off and got out of the car. The officer whirled around and partially pulled his firearm out of his holster.

“Really? Seriously, a junk car, you fill our your summons book and then pull your gun on me?”

“Get back in your automobile sir”.

He didn’t tell me I was okay.

Was I some savvy harmless lone wolf in his eyes? No. When he went to the police academy, did he think a big part of his job was going to be writing summons for folks to pay the county? Probably not, but the questions were irrelevant. We both wanted to just get home in one piece with minimal cost to our lifes or wallets.

So I eventually wound up back at the Suffolk County Motor Vehicle Court in Hauppauge. The administrative law judge accepted my receipt from the junk yard and looked at my ticket collection. The judge sighed. Officer Collections had failed to show.

“Mr. Musto, Officer Collections had the legal right to make the stop and cite you for these violations, but I would agree exercising that legal right was excessive given your surrendering title to the vehicle that same day. Given the removal of the car from the road, I’m going to dismiss all the tickets and charge you just a court fee of $25. Please try to keep any future cars you have in better repair.”

“I will. Thank you your honor.”

The years rolled on and I got older, but it’s still helpful to remember the roles we’re playing in any particular situation with folks playing different roles they choose to play or have been assigned to. My response in those situations today is predicated on getting the results I want utilizing the rules of social systems as they exist today.

Older lone wolves are not looking for stature in a pecking order, or bragging rights among the extended pack. Older lone wolves want to be effective at minimal cost. Older lone wolves understand “pride goeth before the fall”. Older lone wolves want to get home to their den for one more night.

Janet and I are doing okay today.

We live in a townhouse we bought a few years ago which used to be a rental unit for a lawyer with a lot of real estate investments. It was about 25 years old when we bought it and it’s in a real nice gated neighborhood with a lot of open space and trails into the southern California foothills. We got a good price (for southern Cal).

I wound up gutting the entire place a room at a time because I learnt how to do this work over the years. I’m down to our final room which is the master bathroom.

I’m trying to make it sort of a little spa for Janet. The only original construction items remaining are basically the windows, the roof and the walls.

I’m looking forward to enjoying it for a few years with Janet before the winter of our lives closes out our season.

The cars we drive are also new and kept in better repair than the ones we used to have. Even so, Orange County Sheriff pulled me over on the Toll Road two years ago for speeding as I was hurrying out from work to meet the guy repairing the patio spa. I was moving and not paying attention due time constraints and the V6 in the car can turn out a fair amount of torque without really hitting the gas.

Cops today are also outfitted a bit more seriously than 30 years ago. The officer stopping me had a lot of tactical gear. Kevlar vest, wireless communication and earpiece, belt holstered automatic 9 mm, and a chest holster with a Taser. The attitude was the same, but he gave me a break and reduced the ticket documented speed from 90 to 85 so I could qualify for on-line traffic school and keep the ticket off my driving record (auto insurance will change your risk category as a driver with a moving violation and it can cost you a few thousand dollars over the space of the 2 or 3 years it might take you to get the ticket record removed). “Thank you officer, I appreciate it”.

Course, as luck would have it, I got pulled off nine months later by another Orange County Sheriff.

“Good morning officer, what’s the problem?”

“Do you know you just blew through that stop sign back at the corner.”

“I don’t think so. It’s a 30 MPH zone and I was preparing to stop at Mickey D’s for a breakfast burrito.”

“No. You didn’t even slow down. You could’ve killed someone. This is my usual spot and I watch for folks like you.”

(Oh geez. Rolling stop accusation in a 30 MPH zone with a cop in a hidden location from which he regularly dispenses tickets to folks coming out of Coto. Traffic school opportunity is limited to once a year and this guy was not playing ball. The ticket goes through and I’ll be in line for seeing an auto insurance annual premium hike of at least 30% for the next 3 years.)

“Well I disagree Officer, but thank you for the explanation.”

He handed me the ticket and departed, “Have a good day sir and please drive more carefully”. (I do around Rancho, but I also have Waze installed on my phone now and use Android Auto to communicate the app information to the car’s center console).

I pleaded not-guilty and then asked for serial postponements of my hearing in court and dragged the hearing date out for almost 6 months. Ultimately I opted for trial by written declaration, because California police officers are paid for appearances in court but not for trial by written declaration. Trial by written declaration requires the officer to respond in writing to my written challenge to his original actions and my account of the stop (accompanied by pictures and diagrams of course). The officer in a California trial by written declaration is not reimbursed for his time or court mandated response.

The officer who stopped me did not respond to the court notice or supply a written deposition.

The presiding judge dismissed the charge and refunded the fine I had originally paid when pleading “not guilty” and requesting the trial by written declaration.

I smiled when receiving the court dismissal and refund check, but somewhere out there is a bullet of one sort or another waiting for me and and at some point in time our renovated home will belong to someone else better capable of taking care of it. So, I never smile too much. Sic transit gloria mundi.

There’s a poem by Shelley I like called “Ozymandias”. Although just a sonnet, I think the observations by Shelley in his sonnet are well-worth remembering in our triumphs and challenges, both big and small.

“I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said — “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Stay alive, avoid unnecessary conflicts with armed employees of the state, and enjoy the day. The blowing sands are just over the horizon waiting for us and our achievements.

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