At 1:15 in the afternoon I pulled over this
car, a metallic green two-door Toyota, which had just gone through a stop sign. This was
in a quiet subdivision, rolling green lawns, Tudor-style houses, the road lined with
mailboxes on standardized whitewashed wooden posts looking like a row of crosses in a
military cemetery. The sky was a luminous blue and no one else was around except for me
and this other car.
I stopped about forty feet behind the car. I got my stuff
together and looked up through the windshield. I could see the dark, blurred silhouette of
the driver looking at me in the rearview mirror.
Its weird but sometimes you know that something
isnt right. You hesitate, even though everything seems perfectly normal. I just sat
there a minute in my seat. Of course I was doing more than just sitting there. I was
giving the driver of that car a moment to get his or her license and registration
together. I was also giving them a moment to think, to realize that the law was now
present and that I, as a symbol of the law, was now in control. I reminded myself of the
I approached the vehicle and stopped just behind the
drivers left shoulder and tapped the window, which the driver had not thought to
lower ahead of time. Now it slowly buzzed down and I saw a woman, about thirty-seven years
of age, with dyed blond hair, the roots just beginning to show. She did not have her
license and registration ready. I told her that I had seen her slow down but not stop at
the stop sign about a half a mile back.
The woman says she stopped. I say No, I saw it
clearly, you didnt come to a complete stop. You have to come to a complete stop at
each and every stop sign there is, no matter how peaceful the surroundings appear. I got
her license and checked the registration and started writing her a ticket. She asked me if
that was what I was doing, writing her a ticket, and I said Yes and explained that she
could either pay 110 dollars right away or appear before the court at a later date and
contest the fine. And it was then that she said, Officer?
"Yes," I said, not looking up.
"Can we just settle this with sex?"
I looked up from my ticket book in surprise. I then
tried to conceal my reaction and looked back down. "Im going to pretend I
didnt hear that," I said.
But she kept on. "You sure you dont want
anything? It would be a lot easier."
I kept writing until I was done and then handed her
the ticket. She reached up to take it and I saw her wedding ring. And she kept looking at
me, waiting for an answer.
"Maam," I tell her, "what you
are proposing is illegal. Now Im going to just forget you mentioned it. You ran that
stop sign. You have a ticket. You can either pay the fine, or plead your case to the
judge. Please be more careful in future. Have a nice day."
Police officers are supposed to be reserved, to stay
calm, and generally they do stay calm, in part because they get exposed to so many
disturbing things that eventually they get desensitized. But just when you think
youve seen everything, something new comes along. And you feel the impact of it,
though you dont show it outwardly. Because you cant. Its best you
dont. So that everyone stays calm.
I went back to my patrol car. I took my cap off and
set it on the seat beside me. I was getting ready to go when I look up and see the woman
is getting out of her car. She starts approaching my car. And this is where things got
I was alarmed that she had gotten out of her car. But
at the same time, I could see she was an attractive woman. She had on a plain white
T-shirt and tight blue jeans. She had no bag over her shoulder and no jacket and no place
to conceal a weapon. I got back out of the car and stood by the door, at the ready, and
only then did I notice the smell of fresh cut grass. Something acidic in that. Something
about the sea in that. Something about spilled blood, algae, something about what happens
when something unnatural happens to the natural, but fresh, too, like a newborn.
Though I held up a palm to signal her to stop what
she was doing, she continued to walk towards me, with a smile on her face. I got a good
look at her then, and it all hit me. The T-shirt covering her chest was tight, with two
parallel lines of taut creases stretching between her breasts. The shirt was bright white,
perfectly clean; it was like the frosting on a birthday cake. That T-shirt, those
jeansit was incredibly sexy, those ordinary clothes, work clothes, clothes
meant for hard work, meant to get dirty. She had wide hips, just the right amount of
counterbalance to support that chest. She seemed made for reproduction. And any male
seeing her was implicated in that. Like it would be fulfilling a sacred duty. As if it was
nothing selfish, it was a true urge, responding to a signal. Sure it would feel good, but
that was just the reward for performing your natural responsibility.
She got to within two paces of me and stopped. Then
she gestured towards her own body and said, "I just cant believe that you
dont want some of this."
For a moment I froze. It was as if she now had the
authority. It took a second before my training reappeared, like another man within me.
That man said, "I am asking you to please return to your car and go on about your
business," and then that man moved me into the patrol car, brusquely, like a
criminal, ducking my head to the left as we entered. Then he started the engine, backed
the car up several yards, and we pulled back onto the beat, back into my life, floating
along on the patrol cars cloud-soft suspension.
I told my wife about it. Well, not about everything. Just the bare outline of what
happened. I told her this woman had done a California Stop. My wife didnt know what
that was, that a California Stop is when someone slows down at a stop sign and almost
stops, but doesnt quite stop, just keeps rolling, and then goes through. Its
My wife goes, "Oops," implying that she was
guilty of it, too. I frowned at her.
I told her about the woman offering sex in exchange
for me forgetting about the infraction. My wife was really taken aback. How casual it was.
For such a small ticket. And that the woman was attractive, middle class, and even
married. "Jesus," she finally said.
She said she had heard of women crying to get out of
a ticket, but this was a whole other league. "I guess cryings not cutting it
anymore," she said.
"I guess not," I said. And then I got to
thinking. I asked her, "You ever do something like that? Cry to get out of a
She was a little embarrassed, but she admitted to it.
"It was awful, I dont know why it
happened. The cop was there, giving me this speeding ticket, I really couldnt afford
it, and it crossed my mind to cry. And that was it, that was all it took; youd think
it would be harder to do, you know, to act, but I just thought of it, and boom, the
tears started coming. It was weirdonce they started, I couldnt stop.
After a minute I was bawling for real. The guy tore up the ticket, gave me a warning, and
I hightailed it out of there. I was still crying and couldnt stop. I was even afraid
Id get into an accident or something because I couldnt see straight. Later on
I felt terrible, like Id let down all of the women of the world. But it was the
strangest thing, once I had started, the tears came on their own."
I had never heard this story before. Finally I said,
"Wouldnt have worked with me," and kept on eating dinner. But then I
thought, if it was my wife, would it have worked? She is my wife, she is by
definition special to me. She is supposed to have some kind of magic power over me. A
power no other woman has.
We went back to eating. Then, after a while, she
says, "It must be hard for a man to resist such an offer."
I had thought, actually hoped, that we had changed
the subject. So I said, "What now?"
"That blond bombshell this afternoon."
"I mean, it looks like a free one. No one would
find out. And the woman was attractive, and appeared to be clean and healthy. And
lets face it, if shes offering it, it must have worked before. So. A lot of
men would go for it, I imagine." She took a sip of wine.
I didnt really want to discuss this kind of
thing. Its a can of worms. But she persisted. "Dont you think?"
"Yeah," I said quickly. "Sure, all
kinds of things can happen, theres all kinds of guys out there in the world.
Anything can happen."
I tried to dismiss the question as one with an
obvious answer. But I have to say, I also thought about it in the way she presented it. I
mean, I imagined it with those terms, that the woman was clean and I would get away with
it, taken for granted. And it turned me on. I pictured the blond woman in her underwear,
then naked. I imagined having sex with her in different positions. I ran my fantasies over
and over in my head. It was exciting, but also frustrating, like it always is. Because it
was such a powerful series of images, but I could only imagine the sex and not the climax.
So I kept rewinding each fantasy and running it forward again. Because the end may be the
best part, but you cant think much about it. In reality it happens too fast and is
too odd, too overwhelming, to be captured in a mere fantasy. Its the carrot and the
stick: you can only consider the carrot, the chasing after it, and not the moment of
Maybe I shouldnt have told my wife about it. The whole thing wouldnt go away.
It started building around me. It was like that woman, the driver, was out there
somewhere, secretly directing this thing. Heres what I mean:
The very next day I was sitting in the parking lot of
The Red Rocket. The Rocket is a small, white, one-story building with a flat
roof and only two narrow windows in the façade, one on either side of the door. Each
window was dark, like the eyes of a dead animal. Looking closely into the eyes one could
make out the twisted forms of cold gray neon signs gone out.
The lot in front of the bar was thick gray gravel. I
had parked there in the middle of a bright sunny day. I am beginning to be suspicious of
sunny days. Anyway, I had the engine off and was just sitting back in my seat. It bothers
me sometimes to do nothing while on duty, but you cant drive around all day. And
besides, my presence alone has value, sending the message to the neighborhood that the law
exists and is available. After a while I see another white patrol car pass the bar and
turn into the lot, very slowly and deliberately. Its Harmon White. He pulls in front
of my car, then turns, and then stops so that his window is even with mine, his car facing
the Rocket, mine facing the street. He shuts his engine off and our windows slowly
buzz on down. Harmon says Hi and then we just sit there in silence a few minutes.
And like a dumbass I tell him the story, too. Just to
break the silence, to be friendly. And he loves it. Of course, once again, I didnt
explain to him that there was something funny about this woman. That she had some kind of power
about her. Like powerful connections.
Harmon thinks its a great story. He jokes
around, saying we might ought to look for the car that woman was driving right now, she
might just be committing another infraction. I just laugh along with him. What the hell.
Then he says the others will get a kick out of the story.
"Hold on now," I said. "Dont go
telling nobody about this, okay? Its just a stupid little thing that happened and I
dont want any rumors starting. Okay?"
Harmon tells me to calm down. After all, nothing
happened. Its just a funny story. So I had to get serious with him. "Harmon,
listen to me. That story is just between you and me. All right? Now, nothing happened, but
its best we dont have everyone talking about it. It gets passed around enough
and itll end up sounding a whole lot different, okay? I mean it now, just keep it to
Harmon looked at me with a serious expression.
"Okay, man. You got it. No problem. You can trust me."
"Yeah?" I said. My voice sounded more
suspicious than I wanted it to.
"Yeah!" Harmon said. "Crying out loud,
John. You know you can trust me. Good Lord."
I felt bad about insulting him. So I tried to explain
a little. And I got into more trouble.
"Its just that this woman, she really freaked
me out. I dont know why. I mean, it was like she was after something. I
dont know. You know?"
And Harmon says, "I know." I thought there
was no way he knew what I meant. So I kept on explaining.
"It was like she was in control. Like she knew
what she was doing. So confident. Like she could do whatever she wanted. Like I had no
authority. No say in the matter."
"Mmm-hmm," Harmon said.
"And I got to tell younothing
happened, you know, nothing at all, but, it was like I kind of lost my mind for a while
there, and everything seemed to be fine. Like it would have been fine to go along with it.
Natural, even." I shook my head. There was an awkward silence, so I tried to return
to normalcy. "Well, thats that. Just a weird day, a crazy woman. Never know
what youre going to come across in this job."
Harmon just shook his head. I was about to start the
engine of my car when he suddenly said, "You want to hear something?" His tone
The balance had somehow shifted. Trust and fear and
urges rise and fall in small tides. Things slip off the shelves if youre not
careful. I knew my answer to his question should be No. But its my job not to be
afraid of anything.
"Sure," I said.
Harmon paused and looked forward at the vacant bar.
In my rearview mirror the place stared back like the upper half of a skull mouthing the
"Theres this house," he said softly,
and then nothing more.
There was a strange moment. I was naturally terribly
curious about this house. Harmon knew I would be, and he wanted to tell me about it. Both
of us felt that it was unnecessary for me to actually ask what was different about this
house. Nevertheless, he hesitated. He was waiting for me to shift the balance for him. To
level it a moment.
"Whats so special about this house,
Harmon?" I said very slowly, in a low voice. And this tone was enough for Harmon to
know that I realized that something was different here, and that I, too, could be trusted.
The house was the only one built in a planned subdivision just outside of town, on the
other side of the lake. There was a scandal where the construction company spent the
investors money in other dealings and couldnt pay it back. The project was
abandoned. Harmon said the site was now just a vast stretch of sandy terrain where the
trees had been cut down and a series of paved roads had been laid. I went out to take a
look. The roads were black and had new white curbs but were covered with windswept sand.
It was as if I had come upon the first layer of an ancient ruin, a forgotten city. But
there was almost nothing else there to be found.
The main road wound in slow curves through the area.
Here and there were offshoots, short streets dead-ending in bulb-shaped cul-de-sacs. I
imagine it must have an interesting design if viewed from above, from space, maybe it
forms some kind of symbol aliens can read. Maybe they cant read it, but surely they
would try to understand, seeing something that looked so much like a message.
The house was at the end of the last cul-de-sac. It
looked abandoned. The windows were shut, there was no grass around it, and no mailbox out
front. But it wasnt really an abandoned house. Cops used it. As a place to meet
women, to make arrangements to resolve their legal problems.
I saw Officer White again a week later while driving past the First Baptist Church. He was
in the parking lot, standing next to the drivers side door of a red Volkswagen. I
went over to check it out.
"Hows it going?" I asked.
"No problem. This gentleman just pulled in here
to take a nap. Hes on a long drive, felt a little drowsy."
"All right," I said. I took a glance over
at the driver of the Volkswagen. "See you later."
I nodded at Harmon and he made a shooting gesture
with his hand.
You know, this is all I ever wanted. To simply do my
job. To have a nice little life here. In my town. In a nice part of it. In suburbia.
I didnt start out with a lot of possibilities
in life. And I was really frustrated when I was younger because I didnt want to end
up like my Daddy and I thought I wanted to be rich. Everyone says you can be rich,
its just up to you to figure out how to do it. I thought a lot about it, and I tried
working at this or that job and studying this and that but I could see it wasnt
going to get me rich, it was just going to keep me working like a dog until I got old and
retired and, most likely, died the next day.
Suburbia is the next level down as a goal.
Theres still some struggling, but theres some compensation. You accept it,
though theres some dissatisfaction. You know you could have gotten more. And the
system beat youyou didnt escape the system. You lose. Others made it big
and you didnt. And they did it on your back.
And thats probably why I became a cop.
Its a special job. There is special satisfaction in this role, this duty, the honor
of it, the sacrifice. Its a good job, an important job. It helps me feel real. It
helps to ensure my pride.
And look at the shit I end up dealing with. This
woman, this house. I couldnt stop thinking about either. I knew I should do
something about the house. I should tell someone. But to tell the truth, I thought more
about the woman than the house. She seemed more important, anyway. The root of the issue.
I had sort of a childish fantasy. I imagined coming
across her again, by chance. Pulling her over in some secluded place. I imagined this over
and over. I imaged her saying to me again, Can we just settle this with sex?
And sometimes I would be firm and say No and make it
clear that I could not be manipulated. In some versions, I would even arrest her for
making the attempt. These versions made me feel good, self-righteous, I suppose. But there
were other versions. Where I gave in right away. Where I just took what I wanted. Or where
I gave in slowly.
Can we just settle this with sex? she says to
me. And I say, I dont think we can do that, maam.
And then she says, We can. We should.
Thats what this is all for. Dont you see? Thats what this is about. You,
me. This neighborhood. The town. The law. Rules are not just meant to be broken, Sweetie,
they ensure it. Thats what they are for. Thats why we build all this,
trim it, mow it, whitewash it, chlorinate it, pave it, number it, and live in it.
And I dont just give in, I agree with her.
One night Bill Connell was chasing this guy who had stolen a car, wrecked it, and was
fleeing on foot. Connell radioed for assistance and chased him on foot through the park
and out the other side. Then he chased him through an alley, and when Connell came out the
other side, the assisting patrol car rammed right into him, breaking both of his thigh
bones. The bad guy got away.
They wanted someone to fill in for Connell on night
shifts the next week. I had no intention of signing up. I also had not ruled it out.
On Sunday my wife and I went to a football party at a
friends house. We had agreed that she would be the designated driver. At the end of
the afternoon, though, I told her I would drive home. She laughed and held on to the keys.
I threw up my hands as a way of saying that she could drive if she wanted, but it was
absurd. I have to admit that it was an exaggerated gesture, the way I threw up my hands,
and one I never make, and it must have made it more obvious than ever that she should
Then on the way home, she jokes that I cant
handle my liquor any more, that Im getting old. I said, "No, no, its just
that I dont go out partying so much anymore. Its just that Im out of
practice." But I felt bad saying it. Because I had begun to suspect myself that I
couldnt drink like I used to, that I was getting older, and when she said it, it
struck me as the truth. I nevertheless squeaked out a reply, a lame defense. But it
bothered me to do it, to lie or fudge the truth about even such as small thing with her,
because I knew it didnt help. It didnt help get at the truth, and I always
want to get at the truth of things, to review the evidence openly and decide upon what it
says. Even in small matters, I hate camouflaging the truth.
There was that see-sawing of feeling again. A little
metal ball rolls along and clacks into another, setting it in motion. It rolls and drops
and releases a lever, and something comes out naturally and mechanically, a simple
demonstration of the laws of physics.
To change the subject, I told her about Bill Connell.
"Jesus," she said. Then she said, "Im glad you work during the day
usually. All the crazy stuff happens at night. Better to leave that to some other
You may think its just normal conversation, and
perhaps it is, but you say things because you want to make a point, a point other than
what youre saying. What youre saying is besides the point. Just next to it. An
innocent bystander. Thats why I told my wife I was taking Bill Connells night
shifts. To make a point. Not to take Bill Connells night shifts.
It was not the first time I had been to a whorehouse. There had been a bust four years
earlier. It was in an apartment building in town, and what I remembered most about it was
gathering with the other cops in the doorway before going up the stairs to raid the place.
There, I nearly gagged on the thick smell of urine. I asked somebody why it reeked, and he
said that the johns typically get smashed at a nearby bar to get their nerve up. Then just
before going in, they take a leak.
This time was different, of course. There was another
patrol car at the end of the cul-de-sac. I could tell whose it was. I shut the engine off
and sat still for a second. Naturally I thought about leaving. I was nervous. Hell,
Ill say it: I was scared. And that has a force of its own. Its a challenge.
You want to overcome it. You say you are committed, that you made up your mind. You
dont want to let yourself down.
Something is messed up in the brain. These things,
theyre not logical, theyre physiological. You feel excitement, from whatever
cause, and that feels good. You feel excitement and in your brain, excitement chemicals
are released, but so are feel-good chemicals. All kinds of bad shit in this world feels
good. Its not our fault. It explains all kinds of things. War. Why people commit
crimes. Why people fight crime. Strange motivations.
Theres more to it, too. I suppose I wanted to
see the woman. I knew she wouldnt be there, but I was somehow hoping she would. I
did want to settle this. This whole damn thing.
I went up the steps. I intended to stop in front of
the door and wait a second, to think it over again, one last chance. I walked across the
porch and I slowed down when I got close to the door but then I just grabbed the knob and
opened it and took a step inside.
This woman had been busted with drug-making paraphernalia in her home. It was her third
drug-related offense. She was facing serious jail time. She went down on me.
I was perfectly soberI was on duty. I was
not at all relaxed; I squirmed, I jerked, but she kept on determinedly. I felt trapped,
like she had me by the tail. It was a comical scene, really, like this devil had me by the
tail, my most vulnerable part, still soft, hidden in her mouth. I could sometimes feel her
teeth scraping on it, I was almost panicked. She had prominent front teeth, I could see
where they dragged on my skin, leaving two temporary white trails. And her face distorted.
Sometimes it looked ghastly, sometimes it looked comical. And it felt like it was more
than just my cock she had in her clutches; she held everything in her powermy
pride, my whole idea of my life, everything; all in her mouth.
I looked away from her. I tried to relax, but I
didnt know what to think of. Then I thought of the blond woman. I imagined her
making her offer again. I imagined her walking towards my patrol car again. I started to
relax. I started to concentrate. I put my hand on the back of the womans head,
something my wife prohibits me from doing.
I looked around. My cum lay here and there. It faded
away quickly, into dark spots on the sheets. Like that was all it was, just water. Nothing
more. I looked around at the spots of my cum. Well, it wasnt really my cum
anymore. It was just cum.
I drove home, thinking about all of the relationships in the world, all the pretending
which is done. People meeting, falling in love, ignoring all the lovers the other one has
had before, ignoring all the things theyve done before, ignoring each others
entire cum-spattered histories. Places theyve put their fingers, their tongues.
Pretending that things are brand new. Maybe they are. Maybe you take a shower and wash it
all away. Its no big deal.
Even when you cheat. Maybe a shower still washes
everything away. Maybe that and dyed hair and sparkling cars and nice two-story houses and
groomed lawns dont just cover it up, they wash it away, absolve it. That was the
hope, anyway. That the suburban dream redeemed us, through our participation, our
submersion in it. And not just for things of the kind on my mind. All things.
Its a kind of spirituality. A new system of renewal, the old ones discarded long
ago. And I have to say that driving home that night, I felt more than ever that I was
sworn to protect it.
I got home and parked the car in our slanted
driveway. I got to the front door and turned to look back at the car in the moonlight.
With a patrol car parked in the driveway, it always looked like something was happening at
my house, something was always wrong, even when it was perfectly quiet.
And lets face it: if there is a cop car in your
neighborhood, if theres cops at all, something is wrong.