The new manager at CVS was efficient and super active as she seemed to be here, there, and everywhere in the store. Her face was attractive, but intense, not beautiful, but pleasant, though you could see she was a no nonsense person with a stern presence just beneath her otherwise pleasant face. She was slender, more athletic than underweight, and while all the other employees wore uniform blue shirts, she was almost always in a black sweatshirt with a zipper in front, more like the warmup jacket of a basketball player, and matching slacks, or at times dark brown ones, which blended well with her brunette hair.
The first time I ever exchanged words with her was when she popped up behind one of the registers because the two other cashiers were overwhelmed. I don’t even remember what I said, but she rolled her brown eyes, and said, “The wonderful world of retail,” clearly indicating, though she took her job very seriously, she wished she was somewhere else.
As she was ringing up my purchases, I was caught off guard when she added, “My divorce cost me $17,000.”
I don’t know why I never thought of her as being married, much less divorced, and all kinds of questions went through my mind, since I’m a writer and overly curious about other people’s lives. Plus, I was somewhat startled she would so readily volunteer such information to me.
“If you could choose any job or career what would you want?” I asked.
“A cop, I’d like to be a cop.”
Her answer surprised me. There’s no reason it should have, but it did, I suppose because it’s not something I ever thought of becoming, and I know my nature would cause me to feel guilty writing out tickets, not exactly what’s needed in professional law enforcement. Some enjoy authority, whereas I frequently suffer from a bad case of misplaced empathy
“Are there many cops in your family?’ I asked, thinking there must be a influence somewhere in her background.
“Uncles and cousins,” she said.
“Where would you want to be a cop?”
I asked her what kind, in a suburban New Jersey town like the one in which the CVS Pharmacy was located, or across the Hudson River in New York City, or possibly on the county level.
“A State Trooper in New York,” she said. “That’s what I want, to live in the country and patrol the thruway.”
I knew the New York State Thruway well, since early childhood I had endured long drives along stretches of the thruway as my family went up to a cottage on a lake in Ontario, and the majority of the trip, from outside Syracuse to near the border at Niagra Falls or the Rainbow Bridge in Buffalo was along that stretch of road.
My mother, when she was in her fifties until her early seventies, would hop in her van at a moment’s notice to drive up to Canada from New Jersey to visit my sister and her two kids. Once, while driving with her beloved golden retriever in the back seat, my mother was on the thruway in the right hand lane and cars were zipping by her at quite a clip, speeding, of course. My mother may have picked up the pace since everyone else was going so fast, but if she was over the speed limit, it certainly wasn’t by much.
Through the rear view mirror my mother spotted a state police car behind her, but thought nothing of it, since so many cars were speeding past her in the left lane. Then the red light went on and the police car moved up right behind my mother’s van. She was surprised, couldn’t believe it at first, but the state trooper obviously wanted her to pull over, which she obediently did.
The expected conversation took place. “Ma’am, do you know how fast you were going?” And my mother, being a polite woman, answered the question, and subsequent questions, calmly, and truthfully, being a lawful person, and accepting the state trooper’s authority, and perhaps deep within her subconscious, recognizing my maxim, “Thou shalt not argue with someone with a gun.”
The trooper gave my mother a ticket for going over the speed limit, then wished her a good day. My mother couldn’t help it, in a pleasant tone, she asked why the trooper had decided to pull her over when so many others were passing her and obviously going over the speed limit by so much more.
To his credit, the trooper came clean. “I have to write tickets,” he said, “and I thought a nice older woman in a car with a dog wouldn’t be much of a threat.”
I’m not sure what others would have done, but I would have followed my mother’s example, telling the state trooper to have a nice day and then continuing on the drive up to Ontario.
I do know my father and I had a different view of police based on our respective generations. If my father was on the highway, going under the speed limit, and he was behind a police car, he would have no qualms about moving out and around, passing the cop in the left lane, so long as he wasn’t speeding. In my case, I would never dream of passing a police car, even if the cop was traveling at a crawl. Exaggerated fear, I know, but it only takes one, one policeman with a super egotistical sense of his own authority and what can you do?
I posed the question to the CVS manager and asked if she would pass a police car ahead if both she and the cop were going under the speed limit. Without any hesitation, she said, “No way.” To which, I asked, “Why?” With a knowing look, which I still don’t understand, she replied, “If he’s going under the speed limit, trust me, he has a reason.”
A reason to what? I wondered, but didn’t press the issue.
As a child, I was taught to trust and view policemen as the good guys, who were there to help and serve, and protect the public. During my adolescence, I didn’t think cops were bad guys, but I avoided them, knowing I was in the wrong for drinking underage, but still doing it, and not wanting to get caught, so cops were naturally authority figures to be eluded at all costs.
Subsequently, over the years, I’ve known many cops from working as a reporter in the Bronx. Like anything else, I’ve known good and bad cops, and also a fair share of average nonentities. Once I did an article on a C-Pop (Community Policing) officer, a profile, and she was so happy and grateful with the story, she brought a copy of the newspaper into my office and asked me to autograph it, which I did, amazed that I was actually in a position to make a police officer happy, which is always preferable to be throwing across the hood of a car and being handcuffed.
I wanted to ask the CVS manager, the potential future cop, more questions, but while she remained cordial, her responses were curt, and it seemed as if she thought, was convinced, I was “hitting” on her, which I wasn’t, being far older than her, though I’d prefer not to accept that, and would have felt complimented if she had been attracted to me, which she obviously wasn’t. But even if I wanted to be with her, or she wanted to be with me, I thought of her former husband and wondered if while living with her, he was in constant fear of being put under house arrest, for wrongful behavior, intentional or otherwise, something I had no trouble imagining, though I strive to always remain on the right side of the law, at least to the best of my ability.