In another life, I was a patrol officer in an urban area. I did it for about six years and haven’t done it regularly since 2003 or four.
Even though the story like the one below is very pedestrian to me and is most certainly pedestrian to police officers still doing the job, I find that folks who have never done the job are fascinated by these silly run ins.
I thought it’d be fun to share a few of my mundane tales from time to time, in part to amuse the two or three people they’ll amuse, but also to have for later in life, when my kids ask me if I was really a policeman at some point in my life.
Like the one below, they’re not really meant to be funny, but as is often the case with real life, they sometimes are amusing.
I was on patrol one pleasant Sunday morning when I came upon a gentleman rooting in and around a trash can that was placed on the sidewalk outside of what was then a bar called Killebrew’s.
Killebrew’s had a license to stay open until 3am and was in a good spot just south of downtown St. Louis, so it was a pretty hoppin’ joint on most Saturday nights.
I noticed that there were beer bottles standing upright on the sidewalk as well as on the trashcan lid, in the middle of which, there was a hole overflowing with bottles and garbage crammed into it by folks leaving the bar at three in the morning.
The guy was probably in his forties or early fifties. He was wearing a pretty ratty looking trench coat and some sort of faux rabbit or other critter type trooper’s cap that was completely unnecessary on what was a pretty warm morning. He had a ten speed bicycle with him that had seen better days and I noticed that there were plastic grocery bags tied very securely to the handlebars.
I had pulled my car over for something unrelated to this guy, but he caught my attention by being the only other human being out and about yet.
I was still a fairly new policeman, and admittedly naive in the wiles of much urban behavior. My assumption was that he was simply looking for empty cans to recycle. That’s not uncommon in this area as there is a recycling facility not too far away.
My new friend picked up one of the empty beer bottles, swirled it a little like a brandy snifter and studied it for a few seconds. He reminded me of a chemist looking at a test tube to see if some reaction had occurred.
When he put it to his lips and sucked down the backwash from the bottle left by some drunken person the night before, I nearly wretched all over my own lap. I’m sure I had been drinking the night before, since it was a Saturday night and I was a young lad sans children. That didn’t help my stomach’s disgust at what my eyes were seeing.
When he dropped his bottle and shattered it all over the sidewalk, I decided to chat with this fella about breaking glass all over the sidewalks where there would be a fair amount of pedestrian traffic in just a couple of hours.
When I approached him, it was obvious that his was not the only bottle that had broken on the sidewalk; there was glass everywhere.
Before I said a word, he said he was sorry for the broken bottle and that it was an accident. “It just slipped.”
That seemed reasonable enough to me, I told him, and asked what he was up to. He mumbled something or other that made no sense while picking up another beer bottle.
Fearing that he was going to smash it over my skull, I stepped back a little bit and asked him to put the bottle down. I think he put two and two together, laughed and said that there was still beer in the bottle, and that he was just going to drink it, not waste it.
Ugh, I assured him that if he took a drink from that bottle, I was going to vomit right then and there, possibly on his trench coat.
He laughed again and started pouring the aftermath of what was no doubt once a delicious, cold Bud Light into a one liter plastic Sprite bottle.
I noticed that he had no less than five of these one liter bottles in the plastic bags hanging from his bicycle and they were filled with beer and alcohol that this man had found here and there. Mostly it’s left over from bottles like these that he finds in boxes outside of bars (returnables) and around trash cans like this one, he said. Not all of it was from last night either. He collects it where he can find it and drinks it when he feels like it.
“That’s disgusting,” I said, mostly to myself.
He looked at me with a face that said “look, you piece of shit young policeman, are you going to leave me be or what?”
I’m sure he’d been doing what he was doing for years, and in his mind it was no business of mine what he drank. He was right, I guess. Other than the broken glass, which I don’t think he did on purpose, he wasn’t doing anything wrong. Still, I was disgusted enough that I offered to give him $10 to toss his bottles out and go buy fresh beer.
He was clearly torn. He said that the place where he buys beer didn’t open until 11am, and it wasn’t even nine yet.
Jesus, I thought, you can’t wait two hours not drinking some douchebag’s cigarette butt infused backwash?
I semi-begged him to pour out the bottles of backwash that he no doubt worked many hours to fill, and he finally relented.
It was a sad scene watching him pour his hard work into the grass. It was really killing him. It reminded me of the time my fingers nearly bled from opening dozens of cans and bottles of beer in college once. Somebody was having a hotel party and we were busted before a single beer was enjoyed. The cop made me (why me, I don’t know since there were other people there) pour every last beer down the bathtub drain. Uh, I’m 21 for God’s sake! Didn’t matter in Podunk, IL apparently.
Anyway, I sort of felt this guy’s pain, but at least he was getting some jack for his troubles.
After my buddy poured the last of his nastiness out, I gave him the $10 and told him to enjoy his COLD beer. He said he could use a sandwich too and looked at me like I was an idiot.
So, since I was an idiot, I gave him another $5 to get a sandwich.
While I’m quite sure he didn’t spend a dime of that money on a sandwich, Jack in the Box tacos, White Castles, a slinger or any other food item, I felt better knowing that for at least one day, this man was going to get drunk on something that would hopefully only give him a bad hangover and not herpes or influenza or whatever else lurks in the backwash of randy beer remnants.