As I drained the dregs of coffee from my Styrofoam cup, I stared out the window at the non-descript parking lot below and let my mind wander. Let’s see, only 801 days until retirement, not that I’m counting or anything, if–and it’s a big if–I don’t get killed on the job first.
Perhaps sensing my sense of inner unrest, my long-time partner Mike Walzick spoke. “Penny for your thoughts?”
“You can afford to give two cents,” I said. “It’s fully deductible to the extent permitted by federal law, so you should gross-up and give the taxable equivalent.”
He laughed at my mordant commentary on the impecunious industry in which we labored to earn our daily bread. As we like to say around the Public Access Television Police Station, the pay may be lousy, but at least the work stinks.
“You’re on,” Mike said. “I got lucky in the parking lot today.” He reached in his pocket and tossed two pennies on my desk. “I’m gonna need a receipt.”
I sighed at the futility of it all, then began to unburden myself. “You know what it’s like. The late-night stake-outs to see if the host of ‘Nose on Nonantum’ actually resides within the city limits of our little burg, and thus qualifies for membership in Nonantum Community Access comma Inc.,” I said, taking care to sound out the full legal name of our little public-educational-government TV station. “Much more than Wayne’s World!” was our motto, and we meant it, but we couldn’t deliver the high-quality public access television our viewers had come to expect if we allowed deadbeats to move out of our high-tax suburb and mooch off the fruits of our premium cable revenues from some loser town where people were allowed to–God forbid–park their cars on the street overnight and wear t-shirts on the public tennis courts!
“I hear ya pal,” Mike said, not surprisingly since he was only maybe five feet away in our cramped constabulary quarters. “Every night when I come home and my kids come runnin’ to greet me, I tousle their hair and dandle them on my knees thinkin’–you got to treasure every moment with ’em, cause you never know when somebody’s gonna bust a cap on you ’cause you terminated them for using our non-profit equipment to tape somebody’s wedding or bar mitzvah for money.”
“Don’t I know it,” I said, shaking my head ruefully. I knew whereof he spoke–in spades. I had just completed the most dangerous assignment of my career, terminating a “member”–those are quotation marks of dubiety–who’d been using his mother’s address for years, even though he had long since moved out of town. The guy used every excuse in the book, ranging from “you didn’t send my membership cancellation letter certified mail, return receipt requested,” to “We have a family membership.” When we finally got his mom to come to the phone, she said she’d thrown him out of the house years ago because he’d fallen in with a bad crowd–he’d become a professor at Tufts.
But the guy–I’m going to call him “Schimmer” because that’s his name–decided he wanted to appeal all the way up to the Supreme Court of NonantumTV; the full Board of Directors. This means not only do I got to make the collar, I got to come in on my day off and testify against the mook.
“State your case,” the Chairman said, and Schimmer rose to his full 5’8″ height. He had the look of the tweedy miscreant that I knew him to be; sport coat with leather elbow patches, scraggly beard, those ugly suede shoes the professoriate thinks are so cool.
“Thank you, your honor,” the dweeb said. “Tonight I will lay out for you,” he began after clearing his throat, “a case of such unbelievable perfidy, such arbitrary and capricious behavior . . .”
“We got a big crowd tonight, you only got five minutes,” the chair reminded him. “I’d cut down on the adjectives if I were you.”
“Thank you, your honor.” I noticed a few beads of flop sweat break out on his forehead; he was going to be at a distinct disadvantage since he didn’t have the power to hand out bad grades to his audience for the first time in a long while.
“I have been a dues-paying member of NonantumTV for many, many years,” he said, and I got up on my hind legs to interrupt.
“Objection,” your honors. “His mother pays her dues, but he don’t live with her.”
“Is that true, Mr. Schimmer?” the chair asked.
“My mother and I have broken up due to irreconcilable differences,” Schimmer said. “Still, I am family, and . . .”
“I don’t see how that’s relevant,” said the vice chair of the board. “If you don’t live in Nonantum, you can’t be a member.”
“But I still get my mail there,” Schimmer said, “due to the peripatetic nature of my job.”
“If you’re peripatetic, where’s your wheelchair?” the chairman asked.
“Not paraplegic, peripatetic means I have to move around a lot. I’m an adjunct professor, I never know where I’ll be working from one semester to the next.”
“Your honor,” I said. “We have evidence that the appellant has been living in Somerville for over five years.”
“Somerville, Nonatum, it’s a straight shot down the MassPike–what difference does it make?” Schimmer said with the sort of smug expression our local intelligentsia gets on their faces when they’re trying to put one over on a decent, hard-working law enforcement officer such as myself.
“I’ll tell you what difference it makes,” I said, trying to keep my rage on a low blue flame. “You got cable giants coming into this town, bringing us great programming without the snow storms we used to get when we had to depend on rabbit ears back in the day.”
“Big deal,” the professor said. “Everybody’s got cable these days.”
“‘Everybody’s got cable,'” I said with a mirthless little grin. “But not everybody’s entitled to use the facilities of NonantumTV, which the cable companies pay for with the hard-earned money they make off the people of our town. They’re the ones who are entitled to narrowcast their crappy public affairs shows, or sing Peter, Paul & Mary medleys, or bloviate about their model car collections on cable TV, to the embarrassment of their families. Not carpet-bagging interlopers like Mr. Schimmer here.”
I glanced over at the itinerant academic, and for the first time saw just the hint of a trace of a simulacrum of embarrassment on his face. I let my words hang heavy in the air, waiting for him to respond, knowing we had him dead to rights, and there was nothing he could say.
“Well, your honors,” he began finally, “perhaps I have been less than candid in my dealings with your fine local cable access channel, which is responsible for some of the most engaging, informative programming . . .”
“Put a sock in it professor,” the chair said, “unless you’re going to throw yourself on the mercy of this distinguished court.”
Those harsh words made him realize the jig was up. “If it please the court,” he began again a bit sheepishly, “before you throw me out, I would like to get one of those cool tote bags.”