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Thursday, January 22, 2009



Madge Smith, my high school guidance counselor, was a purse-lipped, cranky old lady who didn’t care if you graduated or became a professional heroin addict. Never going out of her way for anything that might benefit a student, she was just coasting through her 70s until she could afford to retire, which should have taken place about 10 years before I entered high school. I figure that if you end up in a career that doesn’t offer you a decent retirement plan, you are not qualified to be doling out advice on how to be successful.

Granted, I wasn’t one of the career-obsessed students that seem to be so prolific in America these days. I didn’t really want to go to college, and in retrospect, it was a stupid thing to do. I would have been much better served in technical school. I can’t blame my career failure all on Mrs. Smith, though. Instead of skipping assemblies to go smoke dope in my closed-windowed Volkswagen, I could have possibly found out about some careers that didn’t require college.

Take being a cop, for example. Working as a civilian for a police department has enlightened me about how good cops have it. And they should, since they risk their lives day in and day out and get injured a lot. But a lot of their time is spent dealing with screaming drunks, and given my background, I would have been overqualified for that job by age 14. Another thing to thank Mom for.

Here’s the thing: Where I work, you can be a cop right out of high school if you promise to get a college degree, which the city will help to finance. The city springs for your police academy training. They buy your uniforms. The benefits are nothing more than astounding. And if you can stick it out for 20 years as a cop, you can retire at 39 with a cushy pension that pays you 80-some-percent of your highest salary for the rest of your life.

Why didn’t Madge Smith tell me this when I was in high school? I would have gone to the front of the enlistment line. I would have even washed off the perpetually lingering smell of marijuana before getting in that line. Instead of wasting four years of my life discovering that a bachelor’s degree in English is, career-wise, the equivalent of a Special Olympics certificate of participation, I could have been drinking beer and watching TV for the last eleven years.

Retired at 39. What a concept. A lot of young law enforcement retirees go on and get another job, so when they retire from job number two at age 59, they’ll have two pension incomes. Sweet deal.

I will be working until the day I die at my desk, keeled over in front of an enviably detailed spreadsheet while the tiny space heater whines annoyingly below me, trying to warm my old, cold, dead bones.

So when the chance came along for civilian employees like myself to be deployed on traffic details, I signed right up. The extra pay was nice, but frankly, I did it for the wardrobe. It’s not a police officer’s uniform, but the Community Service Aide costume. Most people don’t know the difference. It’s a blue shirt with a badge and some nasty polyester stretch pants that I am worried might one day spontaneously combust.

Gay men love cops. We love all men with power in uniforms. Gay porn is filled with cop-themed erotica. We go to circuit parties butched up in cop drag. And if you’re gay and a real, live cop, even if you’re butt-ugly, your job title is a siren song that will attract thousands of men beating a path to your door to have you play-arrest them. Oh, Mr. Officer, isn’t there anything I can do to work off this ticket (wink, wink)?

For the kind of detail I take on, I’m not physically out in traffic with a whistle and white gloves. This is South Florida, and I don’t have a death wish. What I do is stand adjacent to a big stainless steel box for two hours and press a button to control the traffic lights at a particularly busy intersection.

Putting on the uniform for the first time, I felt the same pride and power I did on my first day as a school safety patrol when I was eleven. The shiny badge on my chest reflected brightly, but not as brightly as the mirrored, aviator-style sunglasses I wore. What, did you think I was going to don this outfit without accessorizing? I’m not about to squander away the one time in my life when I can legitimately dress up like Ponch and Jon. I’m thinking I should even rent a motorcycle and buy big boots for my traffic details, since I already have an actual cop name and a two-way radio. Similar to 1 Adam 12, my cop name is 28 November 15, and I now insist that all my friends call me that. Twent for short. Not Twit. Not Twat. Twent.

Pushing a button at an intersection isn’t as easy as it looks. You have to settle into a rhythm, which is, at times, tough to do. It’s a multi-tasking effort where you have to be aware of the turn lanes, pedestrians, drivers with questions, rescue vehicles, cars out of gas, and the constant hope that someone you know will come by and see you in your outfit. Once you master that rhythm and get to know which group gets the green light next, you then can become cocky.

I would last no more than a day as a cop. The invitation to abuse your power is omnipresent. I would take bribes, embezzle Percocet, shock unpleasant Canadians with my taser and pick fights. As a mere traffic controller, though, all I can do is punish.

My intersection includes north-south traffic on Biscayne Blvd, a road that stretches from Key West to Ft. Kent, Maine. Also known as US1 and Federal Highway, it is, at my corner, eight lanes of undistilled traffic hell. The flow out of Miami is constant. I could keep their light green all the time, and there would never be a break in traffic. Therefore, I have to pick a time to clamp the artery. This is where the abuse of power comes in.

If you drive a Hummer, Escalade, Excursion, Navigator, Suburban, Rolls, Bentley, Ferrari, Saleen or Maserati, you can count on stopping at my intersection. I understand you don’t mind spending money to burn more than your share of gas, but I know that you’re impatient and are in a hurry to get to your destination. If you are first at the light, you tend to run it, because you think that since you spent over $50,000 for your vehicle, you have the right to do that. And that is why I see to it that you not only stop, but that you are never the first one in line. I box you in. And if I see you squirming in your seat, beating on your steering wheel or yelling, you will be waiting longer. If you honk to let the driver in front of you know that you think the light is stuck, I’ll mouth into my radio, pretending I am answering a call regarding an important homicide case, and I will temporarily forget about you. It’s not until the Toyotas and Hyundais down there in your shadow start to become irritated that I will surrender the green to you.

I know it’s not right. I shouldn’t discriminate based on wealth. But I have found that it lessens my rage once I am on the road again. I am getting back at you for your obnoxious sense of entitlement, for every time you refuse to wait in the long queue to the on-ramp of Interstate 95, but instead muscle your way in at the front of the line. I also get pleasure out of knowing I can get under the skin of someone who is so environmentally irresponsible that he finds it necessary to drive a 10 or 12-cylinder vehicle. My behavior is wrong, and I am totally ashamed of myself, and if anyone finds out about it, I’m sure I’ll be fired. Then I’ll have to find another job. Maybe I’ll look into being a guidance counselor. Madge Smith would be so proud.

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