I knew a boy, slow on the uptake but good-hearted. He wanted to be a cop. He wanted to bust thieves. His next-door neighbor was a retired cop. He taught law-enforcement classes at the community college now. The young guy went to talk to him, to ask him “what is it really like?” The old cop told him that ninety percent of being a uniformed police officer is breaking up bar fights at 2am and domestic disputes at 3am. It’s standing in an unkept house with vomit on your shoes, waiting for children’s services to show up and find a bed for the kids while their parents are being processed through different parts of the system. After a while, he said, everyone looks the same. As for the rest: Everybody lies, everybody steals.
He’s right. Weddings, funerals, town halls, open houses, churches, conventions and Texas – and the bonds of holy matrimony, too - eventually everyone who wants something comes to you and they aren’t really asking. They come to take.
I went to a cowboy wedding where they held a bridal dance, a money tree, and passed the shoe (a cowboy boot actually) for money for the couple and everyone was pretty much tapped out by the time the affair ended. Tempers frayed I guess, a fight broke out and you could not tell side from side and everyone – men, women, and children, too – threw punches and glasses and the curses rang over all our heads. Felt Stetsons, many newly purchased, littered the floor in black and white and tan and were bent from being stepped on and kicked about in the fray.
The fight broke up of its own accord with no explanation just like it started and I saw two men up at the bar, their shirts torn from their backs but their newly-malformed hats recovered and back on their heads. They were having a beer together. One man put his arm around the other and I believed that they were friends, then foes, and had become friends again.
I went to Mormon weddings where I moved through the receiving line with people who had bounced checks to me and to anyone else dumb enough to take a check from them and then sat down for fifteen minutes for beef on a bun, eating in contemplative silence across from these petty grifters before getting up and going out while the receiving line moved along and others came to sit in the same seats and eat the same beef on the same buns. The liars and cheats there and the upright men and honest women who had never lied, never cheated, sat as one and started to blur together. They did all look the same.
Pursuant to my own wedding, I eventually got divorced. I wandered. I met a girl from La Cañada. I fell in love with her voice. I flew to meet her and when I got off the plane, there she was, as beautiful as the morning sun. It didn’t last. She professed to be an atheist but prayed every day for the deaths of Republicans, Catholics, and the entire state of Texas. She bought me many small gifts and was generous, but she yelled at me all the time and I never understood why. I think that something had been taken from her, taken by the dishonesty of a man or of men, Texan, Republican, or Catholic, and it made her both generous and cruel at the same time. Either that or she was just a big-city girl with big-city ways.
I met a girl from Alberta. She had an ex-husband, a man with no conscience and proud of it. He had stolen from her family using every pretense imaginable. He just stole and stole. Someone was assigned to watch him at family gatherings because he’d go through coats and purses. Once he’d stolen tools from an employer and sold them for a fraction – an almost insignificant fraction - of their worth. He didn’t come home at first. He bought new clothes and then round after round of drinks at place after place on a Monday night in January until he was out of that money. He was temporarily very popular with the people who drink on Monday nights in January. Is this not the goal of every thief? To be King or Queen, if only for a day, or even for an hour? Eventually he was thrown out of some place. She had to pay his cab fare for him when he got home. He had holes in the knees of his new trousers and the elbows of his new leather jacket from rolling on the pavement, drunk. The cab waited outside while he raged and she cried. They had no money for food. He was fired but never charged, and never made restitution. It had happened before. No one knows where he is now, or if he is alive or dead. She is sure that if he lives, he steals. She’s just glad he’s gone.
The kid? He heard the old cop out but went in for law enforcement anyways. Eventually he dropped out. He couldn’t pass the written exams. He had the heart for law enforcement but not the head. Someone else will have to put in time with puke on their shoes before they get to chase thieves. I’d tell the kid that badge or no badge he’ll still see the same people, they’ll always come to him, like they do all the rest of us.
Steve Passey is from Southern Alberta. He is the author to the collections "Forty-Five Minutes of Unstoppable Rock" (Tortoise Books ) "Cemetery Blackbirds" (Secret History Books) and many other things.