I usually walk up to the corner store around eleven a.m. and buy a newspaper, then I either walk back to my house and read the newspaper at the kitchen table or, if the Avenue looks promising, take a walking adventure. Characteristically, I fold the newspaper a couple times so I can grip it with one hand, then I walk swinging my arms and randomly slapping my leg with the folded paper. This routine in the summer is so certain that I am sure there are several people, also in a guaranteed position in the neighborhood, who could testify from memory on my behalf, should it happen (as if looks like it is going to) that am I accused of a deliberate and calculated set of actions all pointed toward one, criminal, accomplishment; instead of being merely guilty of being a creature of habit.
——Last Tuesday, what happened is I got the newspaper as usual and decided to head back to my house. I crossed the street in a gap in traffic (against the light, I admit that), and when I got to the corner I suddenly reconsidered going right home. I stopped in confusion and looked up the Avenue, trying to focus on the distant buildings of downtown. Automatically I was rolling up the newspaper into a paper club easily gripped in my right hand. I found myself whacking the side of my leg with the newspaper three times rapidly, as if this would help my decision.
——Then, this innocent routine of mine got inadvertently mixed up in a criminal scenario. Apparently this whacking three times with the paper was interpreted as a signal by a drug dealer, or runner for a drug dealer, who happened to be standing in the shadows of a closed storefront nearby, because as I turned to go back down the block a man with his head bent, striding fast, came right by me and slipped a cylindrical package right into my newspaper. He didn’t even look at me, our eyes didn’t meet, and he was gone in a flash.
——I immediately suspected I had become involved in some shady dealing, mistaken for someone else who was supposed to appear right at that corner and give the sign for a pass-by transfer of illegal goods; or else I had been targeted as a likely fool for a set-up–I didn’t know, but I didn’t want to show any alarm or even miss a step in my own feeble, I mean enjoyable, routine, so I just kept walking.
——I glanced behind me when I was a good twenty yards from the corner and indeed another man with a rolled-up newspaper was standing there; he was wearing sunglasses and shielding his face with his hand from the intense sunlight.
——Then I saw a police car coming very slowly up the street (I’m not going to name this street, but it is a nice shady city street where mostly good families live); when I saw the police car I immediately considered tossing my newspaper with its unknown cargo into the bushes, but I thought the policeman might see me do that–the best thing to do was just walk normally, not wave at the cop stupidly , not start whistling or jerking my head from side to side, just keep walking.
——It certainly did jolt me when the police car halted right as I was about to pass it and the cop yelled out at me, “Hold it right there!” Then when he stepped out with his gun drawn I knew I was really in the middle of something. “Drop it,” he said; “drop it right there!”
——I insanely thought he meant I was supposed to fling myself to the ground, then quickly realized it was the newspaper he was referring to; I thought, if I don’t drop the newspaper, he will shoot it. It will probably explode, because that cylindrical object inside it is it’s probably a light-weight bomb, or gunpowder.
—–“Excuse me,” I said, and made to place the newspaper gently on the sidewalk, by kneeling down, but this alarmed the cop and he shouted at me again. “Stand up,” he said. I said, “I thought you said, ‘drop it.” He said, “don’t do anything.” I thought, maybe he can tell I’m really not involved in this, but just a blunderer.
—–“Don’t shoot me,” I said. Unfortunately some neighborhood kids were now standing across the street gawking at this scene–they were kids I knew actually, kids who play with my kids, and to them this could not look too good. One of the kids had a Super-Soaker 200 and I was praying he wasn’t going to try to save me, because I know these kids watch alot of television and they have no perspective on what really is supposed to happen in ordinary life, they’re liable to engage in a sudden adventure, or rescue of their friends father from suspected police brutality, on any old Tuesday morning if they are so inspired.
—–This was all happening fast, too fast. Before I knew it another cop had emerged, on foot like he had been waiting there all along, and the two of them went right to work on me. They snatched the newspaper away, told me to stand up against the car with my hands in the air. “This is too much,” I said, for I was most mortified that the neighborhood kids were watching, “why don’t you just handcuff me and get me out of here,” I said, “I will tell you everything.”
—–“Okay buddy,” the cop said, “just get in the cruiser.” So I waved to my little band of water-fighters, and shouted “It’s okay,” while being helped most kindly by the other officer into the caged backseat of the police car. As we drove off, I heard the cop talking into his radio, “suspect picked up. Confesses. Roger, over and out.”
—–Did I hear that right? I didn’t think cops still used that “roger, over and out” lingo. But did I hear that right? He said, “suspect confesses.” I had to try to clear away that assumption. “I didn’t confess to anything,” I grumbled. He didn’t even look at me, but just said, “you will.”
—–We passed by the corner where this started and the guy with the rolled-up newspaper was still there. I said ,”that’s the guy you want, not me,” but not only was that absurd sounding, and ignored by the cop completely, but as I looked around I saw there were other guys, some with caps pulled down over their eyes, some with trenchcoats (trenchcoats, that’s really suspicious!), all standing around on the four corners of this familiar intersection, all with rolled-up newspapers.
—–Maybe I’ve lost my memory, I considered; maybe I am a drug dealer. Maybe I am dreaming–the way I usually tell I am not dreaming is by whacking the side of my leg with the paper a few times, the stupid habitual action that got me into this. I tried to remember what I had planned on doing this Tuesday, and realized I was dangerously . . . idle. I had nothing planned beyond reading the newspaper, actually. God, I thought, I don’t even have my wallet with me; when they do start questioning me they’ll suspect every word I say. I’m an unidentified victim of a complete accident–the very worst fate a man can have, especially an idle man on a Tuesday morning, because even if I get out of this the whole episode will permanently unnerve me, people who know me will never be sure I’m not a drug dealer, you get stamped with the whole aura of a crime even if you are unjustly accused of it in this society . . .
—–“By the way,” I finally said, as we were heading down Monroe Avenue, as I saw people I knew strolling by in sunlight and freedom, “what is in that cylindrical package someone slipped into my newspaper? Drugs, or what?”
—–“You have the right to remain silent,” he said.
—–I thought that over and then suddenly asserted, “my brother is a lawyer,” That was just like to tell him I did have some room to maneuver.
—–I was also thinking about the fact that they always give you one phone call when they get you to the station, and I was hoping that tradition was still intact, but then I started worrying whether I even had a dime in my pocket, I mean a quarter, phone calls cost a quarter, don’t they, these days. Often when I walk to the store in the morning I only grab just enough change for the newspaper, and some donuts if I feel like it. Maybe they give you the quarter, I considered; or you make the call on one of their phones. I didn’t know because I had never been arrested before.
—–This line of reflection made me want to laugh, but I couldn’t laugh because I knew if I started laughing I would become hysterical, and if I got hysterical I would be in danger of being thrown in a mental ward or something, where, given the chronic unusual nature of my thoughts and my inability to not blurt them out suddenly, plus my inability to lie, and my circumstances in life, my apparent great idleness and the pile of surrealistic unpublished stories anyone could find for evidence of pure lunacy right there on the desk in my office at home . . . all this put a considerable premium on being able to . . . just not laugh.
—– “This is no laughing matter,” the cop said. I guess he saw I was stifling a great guffaw; I must have looked like a maniac ready to burst in his rear-view mirror.
—–I said, “you have the right to remain silent also.”
—–That was not a good idea–getting smart with the cop. After all, he assumed I was a criminal. From my behavior he was probably gathering that I was also a highly frivolous criminal, maybe a criminal who is so jaded and cynical from a life of crime that he doesn’t even care what happens to him anymore.
—–But then a miracle happened. His police radio paged him and he pulled over to listen carefully to some new information. I desperately hoped it had something to do with my case, because I wasn’t sure I could last until the time they found out they had the wrong man–without doing something they really could arrest me for, or detain me for, detain me the whole day probably, a day in which I planned to some serious investigations on my own and probably write another few pages in my book called “The History of the Wind.” Or maybe I would have cleaned out the basement to get ready for the big Toy Sale my kids want to have as soon school is out.
—–“Okay buddy,” he said, “you can go.”
—–“What?” I said.
—–“You’re clear,” he said. “Get out.”
—–We were up at Monroe and Union, right across from The Bug Jar. I thought it was rude that I had to get out of the car and be stranded like that; it was a long walk back. Also, I wanted to know what the story was, of course. Also, I thought he might apologize. But cops don’t apologize usually for making mistakes because they are always operating on assumptions they are forced to follow and . . . who can blame them for that? You just end up glad you are out of their clutches, and you end up thanking them.
—–“Thanks,” I said, and I got out. The police car roared away, apparently in a new pursuit. I guess he would have driven me back, but he was needed elsewhere immediately.
—–So I walked down to Dunkin Donuts, and got a newspaper out of the machine, rolled it up and started walking home fast, slapping my leg with the paper. I felt extremely tall, not like the wrong man, but the right man for something really big. I felt like running for President, but decided that was the wrong line of work for me. I should be . . . out in the world more, sort of canvassing it, trying to pick up the truth about it. Things would happen to me, adventures in which I would be the perfect person to accomplish the difficult task. I should be saving lives, right and left, and become a moving target for all the accidental disaster the devil has put in the world.
—–“Very instructive,” I said to myself, “a very instructive episode that was after all.” And the next day of course I practically ran to the store in the morning to get a newspaper, plus I watched the late news that night, to see if anything was reported that might inform me what crime I had been mixed up with, what that cylindrical package contained, etc. But there was nothing. Come to think of it, they should have had a story about an innocent stroller was mistaken for a pick-up man and got arrested right in front neighborhood kids, taken downtown and then bruquesly dismissed with no explanation. I thought of calling the newspaper and giving them the story, but then I decided what I ought to do was write the whole thing up myself and sent it to every magazine in the country, calling it “The Wrong Man”, or maybe just “Last Tuesday.” I was the right man for that job alright.
So now I know why these things happen to me. It’s . . . a backwards kind of comical fate, that’s my ticket in life. I’m the perfectly right man for the wrong things to happen to.