He was was a grown man, but he was short, even compared to the teens, preteens and little kids who surrounded him as I observed what he was doing.
Though he was short, he was thickly built, with muscled arms that tested the seams on the shirt sleeves he was wearing.
It was hot that afternoon, and I could see that he was sweating profusely.
The kids surrounding him were making a racket trying to get his attention, but for what, I wasn’t immediately sure. Just as the van with the bell on top came into my view, I locked eyes with him and he gave me a grin and a thumbs up to boot. The gold teeth in his mouth shone in the sun. Gold teeth don’t work for most people, in my opinion, but in his mouth, they just seemed appropriate. He had a huge, infectious smile, just as big as one of his biceps.
When the van came to a stop, I watched as he bought frozen treats for each and every kid who wanted one.
Word spreads fast in a housing project community, so what had started out as a few had grown to nearly 25 kids in no time. One by one they gave their order to the van driver. Some said thank you right away. Those who tried to run off without saying so were admonished by him to stop and say thank you before running off to enjoy their treat. After the first couple, they all knew the drill and dutifully said thanks before sprinting off to join their friends.
He patiently waited in the heat for each of them to be gone before paying the ice cream man and walking over to my car to chat.
“Thanks for coming by, Don.” He said.
“My pleasure, T.”
T had called out over the radio on a foot patrol in the projects. Foot patrols are simply things some officers like to do to get out and walk around a bit. It’s easier to meet people and visit with businesses on foot, rather than from a car.
I had stopped by as a courtesy to T. I simply wanted to make sure he was okay and that he didn’t need any help. It’s just a thing that officers do for each other that may not make sense to some in this context as you’re reading this. When an officer drives by your call, even if they don’t get out, they’re saying, “Hey, I see you and I’ve got your back.” It’s appreciated.
“Ima get back in my cruiser before I pass out from this heat, if you don’t mind.” He slapped the hood of my police car and got into his own before waving and driving off.
I had admired T for buying treats for those kids, and wondered if he did that often. I told myself that I would make an effort to do nice things like that for other people as well.
Fast forward several months to a cold winter Christmas Eve Day. I had completely forgotten about T buying ice cream in the projects several months prior.
T has again called out on a foot patrol in the very same projects, and because it’s a slow day, I’ve decided to go see what he’s doing.
When I finally find him standing on the porch of one of the small apartments, he is wearing his full police uniform, of course, along with an unauthorized Santa hat as well.
The son of a bitch has bought a good sized trash bag full of toys, wrapped them, and is now handing them out to kids who may or may not have any other gifts to open on Christmas Day. They were mostly dollar store gifts, but when you have nothing else, a dollar store gift means so much.
As before, word spread and kids started running out of apartments towards T and he catches me watching him again. Our eyes meet and he smiles that same gold plated smile at me as I sit in my warm car amazed and a little ashamed.
This time, I did make an honest effort to be a better person right away. I drove straight to a nearby store and bought several items to give out as well.
I bought some gloves and socks, tooth brushes, hats, sandwiches, bags of chips and some booze and headed towards where the homeless hang out.
If I could see the same thank you in the eyes of my kids when they open a $150 tablet as I did in the eyes of those men and women receiving a $2 pair of socks, I’d be a happy man. I gave out as many items as I could, including a couple of bottles of booze to two of my favorite homeless people. Some of you may judge me for contributing to such debauchery, but if you knew them, you’d relent with your criticism, I’m sure.
T was with me when I had my first code 1 call for a stabbing. That’s where we drive with lights and sirens on. I can still tell you the exact address of that call, even though it was 15 years ago. It’s funny what the brain remembers.
Now that I’m thinking about him, I recall that he collected money for a kid who was hit by a car while riding his bike. He bought that kid a new bike and ball glove and a stuffed bear. Sadly, that boy grew up to be a drug dealer. He lives in the same area where he was hit by that car when he was eight. I saw him and asked if he remembered that incident over a decade ago and he said, “No. I don’t remember no car hittin’ me, but I do know that a popo name T came to my hospital room and gave me a new glove and bike. Nobody ain’t never did shit like that for me before or since.”
T recognized people who needed his help the most and left an impression on a lot of people, myself included.