05 August 2006

The Screws of The Man (Part 3)

(2004 travel saga continued: prelude: Trip Prep; The Screws of The Man: Part 1, Part 2)

From the moment I found out there was actually a fee for a temporary No Parking sign permit, I knew that I'd hand over fifty bucks without blinking an eye. $112.75, on the other hand, was worth serious consideration: that's a good chunk of a day's travel expenses. I could stay in truly divey motels for 5 days to recoup, but five days? Not really what I had in mind. Besides, that might increase the odds of my car getting broken into while I travel.

I felt certain that if I committed to getting the permit, I would subsequently find a great spot on my block. A street cleaning ticket is only $35 after all. However ultimately, since I plan to load up and then leave, having a space directly in front of the studio is integral to a smooth start. I would pay the damn fine, I mean fee.

I called the station and got Officer McIntire again. He seemed to remember me. Since I didn't have access to a fax machine, I said I could stop by the station. I had to feed my friend Chala's fish anyway and the station is about halfway en route. He noted the time and asked how long it would take me to get there since it was the end of the day.

"Ten minutes."

"Ok, I'll wait for you."

"Or I can come tomorrow if that's easier."

"No, that's all right. If you can be here in ten minutes, I'll wait," he said.

I grabbed my checkbook and hoofed down the street. I knew I could make it just walking, but I ran a downhill block just to be safe.

When I walked into the station, I saw a woman and her daughter waiting by the window. It reminded me of the last time I'd been there, when my car had been broken into and I had to wait a long time before someone came up to the window. There was only one officer towards the back of the room and he was on the phone. I wondered how long they'd been waiting and checked my watch.

Another officer came up, opening the door to the little lobby. After explaining I wasn't with the others, I told him I was there to see Officer McIntire. The mother asked if her daughter could use the restroom since she was desperate, so he led the girl back and went to get my cop.

"We just got burglarized. I feel so violated," the mom said to me.

"Yeah, the last time I was here was because my car had been broken into." I didn't think to ask if they'd been mugged or what exactly, though it occurs to me now it'd be good to know what's going on in my neighborhood even if I am leaving soon. In fact, I acted just like most everyone did when I said my car had been broken into: preoccupied with my own errand, I responded with my victimization and little sympathy, just a commiseration that the police wouldn't be able to do much, if anything.

The door opened again, this time for me. Officer McIntire introduced himself and his 10 year old daughter, Caroline. His handshake was a notch or two below bone-crushing so I responded in kind as my best defense. As we walked back, he gave me the fifty cent tour pointing out the main office, the holding cell where they detain bad guys (there was one in there! I should've paid more attention to what he looked like), and other features of the station. What struck me most were the benches along the wall; for each bench, 4 handcuffs hung from a bar bolted to the wall above them. Otherwise, the main office just had a table surrounded by maroon vinyl chairs and some desks. His office was beyond that.

He and Caroline sat down, but then he asked her to get up so I could sit, so she moved to the chair beyond him. It was more of an alcove than an office since there was no door, but it was away from the main rooms with a hall separating it. Two desks sat across from each other, but the other occupant was out.

He started filling out the paperwork and telling me about his life. He's a widower which is why his daughter was with him at work. He has three kids: 10, 12, and 13; two boys, one girl. He showed me a recent photo on his desk located under a clear protective sheet with several others. Caroline retrieved the logbook and signs and started helping him with his old computer. When I told him I was moving to Massachusetts, he launched into tales of his wife who was from Attleboro, pushing aside papers to show me more pictures of people in areas of MA of which I was largely unfamiliar. I sputtered the occasional comment and nodded politely; he was gregarious and didn't mind that I was quiet.

The signs would have to go up Saturday. "If I print them out now, could you take them?" he asked.

"Yeah, I guess so," I replied somewhat half-heartedly as I considered having to lug them on to Chala's and then back, or going home first and then going to feed the fish.

"Are there trees or poles around you can hang them from?"

"Yeah, there's a couple poles."

"If you can put them up, then that'll save me coming in on Saturday."

Knowing how much of a drag I'd consider that if it'd been me, I said, "Sure."

His computer wasn't responding. I waited patiently, unfazed, because it reminded me of the computer I'll return to once I get it out of storage, how slow and finicky it was, and how much more so it will be if it even still works.

"After you got here so fast, I can't believe how long this is taking."

"That's ok," I assured him; and it was as I was glad to be taking care of it once and for all.

"You know, because you're from Massachusetts, I'm not gonna charge you. You just have to hang the signs."

My relaxed attitude had left me present enough that there was no question about what he'd just said. "You totally rock," spilled out of my mouth in an unexpected wave of elation.

"What's that?"

"I said, 'You rock.'" It felt like an awkward age displacement within myself when repeated. Still, my very nice officer turned out to be a VERY nice officer. Inward leaps of joy; I started paying more attention to his tales and committed his daughter's name to memory the next time he said it.

He told me how he'd gotten a speeding ticket in MA years ago, and not thinking he'd ever marry someone from the state, he didn't pay it because the state trooper who'd issued it had been a real jerk. Years later it caught up with him-- even though he had eventually paid it-- as his license was suspended. Apparently when MA switched over to a new computer system, they'd added a $10 "administration fee" to tickets to help recoup the cost: this he hadn't paid. When he called, he got the person who'd suspended his license. She took it off for him. This was his example of humanity within bureaucracy.

The printer jammed. He pulled out a crumpled sheet and I laughed; no amount of waiting could diffuse my happiness. More stories followed, he offered me water, producing a bottle from a white mini-fridge behind him that I hadn't noticed because it was covered with a fax machine and printer. A post-it kept losing its stick on the hutch above his desk, so he finally set it down.

When we were finally done, the two of them walked me out. I had 4 signs rubberbanded together, with strings through their holes-- he'd made sure Caroline picked out signs with strings attached for me-- and an envelope with "Ms. TTaT" written on it, containing my copy of the

I thanked him again, and he said he'd remembered that I was hesitant to pay the fee when we spoke on the phone.

"Yeah, it was really tough for me to decide to pay it."

"Well," he smiled, "now you can have a really nice dinner when you get to Massachusetts."

"Thanks again." I ambled home, clutching the signs against the wind, hoping the guitar for his son's birthday-- he was turning 14 on Saturday-- would be ready for them to pick up on the way home.


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  1. Aw, what a sweetheart! Yay for kindness!


    PS Please may I link to your blog from my blog, please?