Hot Air

Jimmy The Cop

[How about another little something from the Big Mike Archives? This one, from three and a half years ago, is about a fellow I once knew. He died not long ago and his grandchildren and great-grandchildren mourned him loudly and deeply on social media. It struck me that the picture he’d given them of himself was, to use an old school term, air-brushed. I’m not interested in disabusing his grandchildren and great-grandchildren of their dreamy, gauzy memory of old Grampops but it strikes me that some Platonic ideal of truth must be served. Don’t worry, none of those grandchildren and great-grandchildren read The Pencil. But you do. And at least you’ll know my version of the truth.

This piece first ran in The Third City on January 29th, 2011.]

I’m not against the police; I’m just afraid of them.

Alfred Hitchcock

Here’s a story about a Chicago Police officer I once knew. Let’s call him Jimmy. Jimmy Kello.

Jimmy Kello had never been much of a student. He graduated high school by the skin of his teeth. He got married at 21 and by the age of 25 had four kids.

Jimmy and his family lived in a cramped apartment. He’d learned a minor trade and had a decent job but at the end of the week, after all the bills had been paid and the refrigerator stocked, there wasn’t any money left.

Jimmy’s father was a precinct captain. Old Man Kello appealed to his aldermen to get Jimmy a job on the police force. Unfortunately, Jimmy had to pass the patrolman’s test in order to get into the academy. And Jimmy, as I’ve said, never had been much of a student. He scored far below the cutoff point for academy candidates.

Old Man Kello had to request a second audience with his alderman. Some people — scientists and other foolish people — profess not to believe in magic. Clearly, they must not have studied the workings of City Hall in Chicago in the mid-1960s. Old Man Kello asked the alderman what he could do. The alderman said, “Doan worry about it.”

Before you could say abracadabra Jimmy Kello was in the police academy.

After graduation, Jimmy was assigned to a station in a Puerto Rican neighborhood. He’d never cared much for Puerto Ricans, although he would freely admit they were preferable to the Blacks.

The young toughs in the neighborhood learned the name Jimmy Kello in record time. Jimmy, they discovered, liked to bounce things off their heads when they were in the lockup. He learned early on to bounce inanimate objects off their heads because once, after bouncing his fist off one punk’s head, he wound up with a broken hand. Some toughs have awfully hard heads.

As time went by, Jimmy began to bounce things off punks’ heads even out on the streets. And he became a tad careless about whose head he bounced things off. More than a few Puerto Rican young men who’d never before had any trouble with the law soon were walking around Chicago’s Northwest Side with lumps on their skulls.

The district commander on more than one occasion had to call Jimmy Kello in for a heart to heart chat about the etiquette of brutality. The commander advised Jimmy that bouncing objects off innocent kids’ heads was frowned upon, mainly because such actions cluttered up the commander’s desk with complaints.

After Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated and the West Side went up in flames, Jimmy drew assignments in the riot zone. His relatives wrung their hands and fretted for his continued health. “Doan worry,” Jimmy said, “I’ll be okay.”

He said this with a little smile on his face, as though he looked forward to the challenge.

After the rioting, Jimmy would boast that he and some trusted colleagues had dragged numerous young black men into gangways and bounced things off their heads as well as other other parts of their bodies. Every time he recounted these warm memories, he’d beam.

Just a few months later, antiwar protesters promised to come to Chicago to disrupt the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Jimmy again drew assignments to the protest zones. In the days leading up to the convention, he told family and friends he couldn’t wait for the hippies and Yippies to start something. He’d straighten them out, he promised. He had a dreamy look in his eyes when he’d say this.

Chicago 1968

Happy Days

Jimmy loved his job. In addition to affording him the opportunity to bounce things off young men’s heads, he met a lot of people who were eager to be his friend. In Chicago, knowing the cop on the beat could be more valuable for a businessman than having an unlimited line of credit. For instance, if a man sold used cars and one of his customers missed a payment, having the cop on the beat ring the deadbeat’s doorbell at three in the morning would ensure promptness in the ensuing months.

By providing such services, Jimmy reaped many rewards. He was able to buy mint-condition used cars at cost. He rarely paid for Italian knit shirts and alligator shoes. He had carte blanche at every restaurant in the district.

Even though a patrolman’s salary wasn’t much more than what he’d earned as a tradesman, Jimmy was able to scrape up enough money to buy a more spacious home in the suburbs. When a nosy family member asked Jimmy if it wasn’t true that policemen had to live in the city, Jimmy merely said, “Doan worry. I use my old man’s address in the city.”

Sadly, Jimmy’s life wasn’t all sweetness and light. Yes, there were problems. The test of a man is how he handles adversity. Jimmy’s wife — let’s call her Sharon — had begun to make unreasonable demands. She insisted, among other things, that he spend more time at home with her and the four kids.

Jimmy knew it wouldn’t be easy for him to do this considering the other woman he’d been seeing for years also was demanding more and more of his time. And this other woman had a lot of money. Jimmy weighed the virtues of home and family against the virtues of a lot of money.

The internal debate caused Jimmy to become edgy.

In the past, Jimmy had only hit Sharon with his open hand. He felt it was only right and fair, considering he was a lot bigger and stronger than she was. Plus, he might have reasoned, slaps wouldn’t leave black and blue marks.

But as the women in his life became more demanding Jimmy found it impossible to maintain his husbandly discipline. Now he began to slug his wife with his fists.

Sharon assumed slugging was against the law so she called the police. When officers would show up at the door, Jimmy merely flashed his badge at them and they’d go away. After the calls became too frequent to ignore, the responding officers suggested that Jimmy might start thinking about taking it easy on his wife. Jimmy didn’t appreciate their unsolicited advice. “Doan worry about it,” he’d say frostily.

One evening Sharon’s parents decided to drop in for a visit. When Sharon answered the door, her mother gasped. Sharon’s face was swollen and discolored. It appeared as though her jaw was broken.

By coincidence, Jimmy at that moment remembered an important engagement. He dashed out the back door and squealed away in his car without even saying hello to his in-laws.

Happily, Sharon’s jaw was not broken.

A few months later, Jimmy again became displeased by Sharon’s demeanor. Perhaps Jimmy had heard that it’s best for a fighting couple to go to different rooms and let their emotions cool down for a while. Sharon ignored his suggestion they do this. Jimmy felt compelled to throw her down the stairs.

As Sharon lay on the basement floor, mewling in pain, Jimmy remained upstairs where his emotions did indeed cool down. Presumably he wondered why Sharon wasn’t as level-headed as he was.

Not long after that, Sharon lay in a hospital bed after surgery. The doctors had successfully repaired her ruptured discs and shattered vertebrae. Sharon opened her eyes and saw Jimmy sitting at her bedside.

Through her haze, Sharon imagined she heard him say he was leaving her. She thought it must be an anesthetic-induced dream so she allowed herself to drift back to sleep. When she got back home, she found that Jimmy indeed had moved all his belongings out.

Now Sharon was forced to get a job and support her four kids herself. She was reasonably good looking and still young, so she learned to be a bartender. Taking home a wad of tip cash every night eased her burden since Jimmy felt child-support payments were an undue burden on a still-young patrolman with a new family.

Yes, Jimmy’s girlfriend, the woman with a lot of money, had become pregnant.

Every time Sharon phoned him to ask where his monthly check was, he’d tell her to go pound sand.

That’s an old Chicago cop term — go pound sand. Chicago cops have a way with words.


Go Pound Sand

Jimmy’s soon-to-be ex-wife hired a lawyer and asked a judge to force Jimmy to contribute to the financial well-being of his first family. The judge issued a subpoena for Jimmy to appear in court. Oddly, even though the process servers knew precisely where Jimmy worked, they reported back that they couldn’t find him. It may only have been a coincidence that the process servers were moonlighting Chicago policemen.

Soon, Jimmy told his commander that he couldn’t work because he’d slipped and hurt his back while throwing some Puerto Ricans into a paddy wagon. Jimmy was found by Chicago Police Department doctors to have suffered a work-related injury and was given workman’s compensation. The doctors ruled that it would be impossible for him to sit or stand for long stretches at a time without experiencing debilitating pain. He’d never have to work again, yet he’d continue to draw his policeman’s salary.

Jimmy new wife, the one with a lot of money, bought him a small restaurant and he went back to work anyway. As the eatery’s proprietor, he’d stand or sit for long periods of time. Somehow Jimmy endured the agony. In fact, people who visited his restaurant reported that Jimmy had never looked better.

Sharon eventually got by. She almost lost her home on a number of occasions and the telephone was shut off once or twice. But the kids grew up, she found someone else, and has been reasonably happy ever since.

I happened to see Jimmy’s Facebook page the other day. He’s posted a few pictures of his family and his home. His grandchildren and great-grandchildren sit around him in the photos and gaze at him lovingly but he looks awfully unhappy.

At the top of the page, where it shows what his occupation is, he’s typed in “Chicago Police Officer.”

Perhaps he misses bouncing things off people’s heads.

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