Biff America: Youth, strength and stupidity
Special to the Daily
In order to climb that tree in Boston Common you had to place one foot on the “Do Not Climb This Tree” sign. Pleading ignorance was not an option.
“Summer Thing” was a series of free concerts in the 1960s and ’70s around the Boston area. Rudy Giamarco and I took the subway to Park Street to see and hear Bo Diddley. I think we might have been juniors in high school, but, with the confidence of youth, we were intent on hooking up with any college coeds whom we might meet.
We arrived late and all the good places to sit or stand were taken. Luckily, there were nearby trees that provided a better vantage point.
Whether it is exceeding the speed limit, parking illegally or more serious and profitable crimes, it has always been my contention that breaking the law requires you do so with the understanding that if you get caught, you suffer the consequences stoically. I have no sympathy for whining criminals.
Now certainly climbing a tree with a “Do Not Climb This Tree” sign was not a high crime, but we recognized it was forbidden. Still, we decided to take our chances.
When the cop approached, I knew we were busted. But I also knew that he probably had more important things to do than arrest two goofball kids for climbing a tree. As he walked over, Rudy had already started to climb down.
The cop said something to the effect (in a thick Boston accent), “Get ya gawd-damn assas outta thair. You know you’re not supposed to be up thair.” While I began my climb down I heard Rudy, on the ground, apologizing. The cop ignored him but rather looked up at me and repeated his command.
At that time in my life I was very proud of the fact that I could do quite a few one-handed pull-ups. Sadly, shoulder and back strength weren’t commensurate with intellect. So rather than jump down like Rudy, I hung from a low branch, about 2 to 3 feet off the ground. I looked over my shoulder, did a few one-handed pull-ups and asked, “Can you do this?”
It was so long ago I’m not sure what I was expecting. Did I assume that he would be so impressed he would let us remain in the tree? Did I think this busy, overworked officer of the law would compliment me on my physical fitness? Wrong on both counts.
Rather, in response to my query, “Can you do this?” he grabbed me by the back of my pants, pulled hard and said, “Nah, but I can do this.”
My nose and forehead scraped on the bark before I hit the ground. By the time I got on my feet the cop was walking away without another word. Rudy looked at my scratches and said, “That was a really stupid thing for you to say.”
I was angry and indignant, but even back then — when I was young, strong, yet stupid — I knew Rudy was right.
It seems since Ferguson, and before, there have been a lot of charges of police brutality. Like most everything now, it has degenerated into a political litmus test.
Diverting from my new-found practice of not offering opinions on stuff I know little about, I will risk offering an opinion. Yes, there are most certainly cases of police overreacting and, in some cases, using unnecessary (sometimes deadly) force. I think in those cases steps need to be taken to investigate and punish those responsible.
But I do think those cases are the minority. We put men and woman in horrendously intense and stressful situations and ask them to behave in an always rational manner. Most of us have a natural inclination to avoid situations where we face bodily harm, yet we ask these men and women to approach those situations — then we expect them to never overreact. I think one solution would be better pay and better training along with an attitude of zero tolerance. I in no way condone what that cop did to me or anytime a police officer is abusive, but I have to take some responsibility. Had I not been a smart-ass it would not have happened.
Though my face was scrapped and scratched, Rudy and I had a good time listening to Bo Diddley.
Just after Bo’s last encore, Rudy started talking to a couple of Boston University coeds. He told them we were Princeton freshmen (though I think our jeans, leather jackets and work boots might have given us away). Rudy was persuasive and charismatic; they seemed interested until they saw my bloody forehead.
“Your friend’s face looks like a pizza. Gross!”
Rudy answered, “Yeah, but you should see him do one-hand pull-ups.”
Rudy and I rode the subway home alone that night.
Jeffrey Bergeron, aka Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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