I was watching the final spin cycle at the Laundromat this morning when a muffled voice broke in, ‘Mr. Keely!’

I whirled to face a former student, an attentive youngster and with a penchant for athletics and girls, to my recall. How quickly they grow up to their own wash.

‘Nice to see you,’ I greeted warmly. ‘You became a cop, but where’s the uniform?’ He confided, ‘After one year, I got tired of the cliques, brutality and hopelessness. Maybe in response to your be-true-to-self stories through high school, I quit. Now I work a different County job that I can live with.’

‘This is serendipity,’ I bid, ’since there is a question on a common issue of handling policemen from a recent event. Will you comment off the record?’

‘You were candid in class, so I’ll return the favor. What happened?’ he asked.

I quickly related ‘Midnight Desolation’ of two weeks ago when a Riverside, Ca. sheriff browbeat me on a dark desert road for consent to search my car. ‘Had I not been a teacher and threatened to spill the beans in every class, he would have hauled me to jail.’

His fist slammed the laundry counter. ‘Where have you been since I graduated, Mr. Keely? Of course he suspected you. Nearly every loner in southwestern California is strung out on meth.’

‘I hardly know what meth is,’ I protested. ‘Must the innocent suffer to catch the guilty in this desolation?’

‘The cops’ world isn’t a classroom of thirty-five students,’ he explained. ‘It’s city blocks of thousands, so the police must profile.’

I threw up my hands in the Laundromat.

‘You’re a character, Mr. Keeley. Look at your wrinkled shirt! You have a choice in the fine legal print: Conform to citizen standards, or get hauled to jail once in a while.’

‘I know the boys down at the local station. I once trained and acted the same way as your midnight cop. The goal of the officer is to get consent to search your vehicle for hard evidence. I press, press, press the perpetrator until he says or does something stupid. I use it to pry his consent to search his vehicle. If he doesn’t break under the press, I look to the vehicle for something wrong to allow me in. If there’s nothing, and he continues to give me a hard time by refusing permission or a reason to search, then I tell him that I suspect he’s driving under the influence. It could have gone easier for both of us, and I take him to jail. The car is impounded, and ultimately searched. The hard way costs me an extra thirty minutes and paperwork, and it costs you a couple hundred dollars tow fee. The pity is that the jails are so full that the meth is confiscated and the offender released.

‘The next time you’re stopped, Mr. Keely, ask the arresting officer to call a supervisor to the scene. Better, call an attorney on the spot, or hook up with an online legal service that fields calls 24-7. When the officer returns with your license, hand him your cell to speak to your counsel. Best, what officer wants to tangle with a teacher of the sons and daughters of every parent in town?’

‘I’ll stand out, thank you,’ I said lowering my hands. ‘And assure them at the cop shop that I didn’t tell any students but wrote a vignette.’

‘Take a copy down to the station and put it on the sergeant’s desk,’ he suggested. ‘They’d string me up,’ I whispered back. He brightened, ‘On second thought, give it to me.’ But I refused.

‘I hate this!’ he said sipping Starbucks. ‘Teacher, let me know when you find a lesson in it.’

The drier buzzed and I opened the door. ‘After reaching voting age,’ I said pulling laundry, ‘give people the freedom to hurt themselves. No more seatbelt rule, illegal drugs, or laws against things that don’t hurt others. Let grown citizens learn the hard way rather than have eternal parents.’

I folded my shirts, shorts and socks knowing it wouldn’t happen in this community where the ex-police would bankrupt unemployment.

I shouldered my wash as he called, ‘Be careful, Mr. Keely. It’s a classroom out there!’

Kathryn Lang replies:

In response to Bo’s bid to allow adults unfettered freedom to smoke, shoot, snort, and go without helmets or seatbelts, I’d like to point out that these are the same freespirited souls who routinely end up uninsured in the ER with head trauma after overdosing and/or being ejected thru the car window. Hospitals pass along these costs to insurance carriers with padded bills (the $12 aspirin), who hand them right back over to the more fiscally responsible. What they can’t pass along they try to absorb, sometimes unsuccessfully, resulting in hospital closures, which in the grand economic picture may be expected, but really stink if you’re having chest pains at 3:00 am. Same theory with your car insurance premium (and who enjoys receiving that bill?). Only two states have no pay-no play statutes (NJ & CA). Trust me, the free soul who enjoys the wind blowing through his hair while on his Harley won’t hesitate a millisecond before filing suit after you cut him off and he fractures his skull on the asphalt. Babysitting statutes aren’t Big Brother, they’re good business sense. Few will “learn the hard way” — they just transfer their losses to the rest of us.


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