“A Night With Officer Monty”
by Isa Hopkins, editor-at-large
The events which occur within this essay were set in motion long before we could ever have imagined their occurrence. They are the product of a celebration of freedoms, in conjunction with unsuspecting ignorance; unlike on TV, the names within this essay have not been changed to protect the innocent. Although, if my cohort in crime and I had been thinking at the time, we would have changed our names ourselves — or better yet, our ages. Honesty is only the best policy until it unfairly leads you straight into trouble.
It all started on a typical day in a typical July in the midst of an all-too-typical summer. My friend Barb and I had biked from our houses to the library, then to Subway, and then to her job as a dog-walker, as was our custom. We were hanging out afterward at her house, preparing to go to Julie Smolinski’s (who shall henceforth be referred to as “Smo”) house for the evening. Chatting, complaining, and playing Stratego against the vocal backdrop of Shirley Manson, we almost missed the phone.
It was our friend Megan, wondering what we were all doing that night. She and Barb, then Barb and Smo, then Smo and Megan, all conferred over their parents’ landlines before concluding that a trip to Coventry was in order.
For those who have never experienced the particular majesties of Cleveland Heights in the summertime, allow me to explain. Coventry is a microcosm of hippiedom, youthful and fun and probably the only location in all of Midwestern America where public pot-smoking is not only tolerated but lauded; it is the Bay Area transposed to six blocks in Ohio, lined with restaurants and art stores and concert venues and Big Fun, a local institution stocked with Star Wars lunchboxes and Pope paper dolls and Full House Barbies. According to The Hipster Handbook, it is the prime habitat for that particular species between New York and Chicago, and for one memorable stretch of my sophomore year of high school it was a home away from home, where my friends and I would converge after school and rehearsals and crappy teenage jobs to talk about blowjobs and The X-Files and — well, that was pretty much all we ever talked about, really.
Memories of that epic July night at Coventry are slow to fade. We went with the Stratego board in tow, playing the game on a table in Coventry Yard, and as we sipped mochas and strategized our way to victory we met quite a cast of characters. There was Mike, who claimed to know all the secrets of Stratego; there was Megan’s newly-made friend, flamboyant as ever, with whom she sang RENT in impromptu performance; but the most enduring of all was, without a doubt, LaTrez. LaTrez is not his real name — it is what we christened him in the absence of knowing such a thing — but he was a Coventry staple, a dreadlocked, Stratego-loving pot dealer. Of course Megan was the only one of us who wound up getting his phone number.
We ended the night at the Centrum, with a viewing of “Clockwatchers,” and the night was declared a resounding success. We strove to recapture it time and again, sometimes with other friends in tow but always there at Coventry; once, Smo purchased a pack of toy soldiers and some Bottle Caps candy at Medic Drug, and after we’d secured a table back at Coventry Yard, we all began to tear foliage from the shrubs around us. We implanted the foliage into the wire mesh table, then set up the soldiers, and then the Bottle Caps — it was our own re-creation of Vietnam, complete with land mines, and after its Coventry debut it lived on for months in the backseat of Megan’s car.
All good things must come to an end, however, and ours came on a Friday night in early October. We drove to Coventry in our usual fashion — in Megan’s car with the radio blasting — and when the Beastie Boys’ “Brass Monkey” came on 107.9 we sang along with a volume that was probably illegal in wealthier areas. Our first stop was Tommy’s, the funky vegan-friendly restaurant frequented by all Coventry regulars. We sat in a booth and made obscene jokes at Smo, about what I will not write here.Â Suffice it to say that her salad (and later her chin) was covered in ranch dressing.
We moved on then to Coventry Yard, where Smo provided us with auditory entertainment, singing selections from middle-school choral performances and culminating in a tabletop rendition of the DiVinyls’ 80s classic “I Touch Myself.” After this exertion, she became hungry, and we decided to move inside Arabica. Smo ordered a scone from the coffeehouse and we sat inside of its colorful muralled walls while she munched, talking about everything and nothing. The only meaningful verdict reached in our discussions was that it was time to go.
We walked back out to Coventry Yard, taking seats on the Yard’s monolothic cement steps. Smo invited us all to her house, as did Barb, but Megan had to work the next morning and wasn’t sure if she could go —
We all murmured greetings at the interloper, wondering why a man in a police uniform wasn’t bothering with the pot-smokers and drug dealers a few strides to our left.
“Mind telling me how old you all are?”
Barb went first, then Megan — “Seventeen.” Then Smo and I.
“Are you girls aware that it’s 10:45?”
We all stared dumbly in response. I began to wonder what the Cleveland Heights curfew was — I’d heard stories from some of my friends about getting caught for curfew, but those were the friends who hung out with twentysomethings at bars in the Flats until four a.m. Curfew had to be later than this guy was implying.
“Are you aware that there’s a curfew in Cleveland Heights?”
Or maybe not.
He asked us some other rhetorical questions before he got to our names. I think Megan or Barb actually started to give hers before the officer cut her off, saying he only wanted Smo’s and mine. His mistake was in asking for Smo’s first — my teenage rebelliousness was confined to school-uniform infractions, skipping classes and reading dirty fanfic, but faced with a badge and a gun I became compliant; Smo was not so timid.
“Why do you want my name?”
The officer asked her again.
“Why do you want my name? What are you going to do with it?”
Finally she relented. I gave my name without a second thought. The officer made a snide comment about how much easier I was to deal with than my friend.
“I just wanted to know why you want my name.”
At that, he reached for Smo’s arm. Instinctively, she pulled away. The police officer got angry.
“You’re coming with me.” The handcuffs that appeared suddenly in his grasp emphasized his point.
Barb or Megan — I can’t remember who — asked him what he was doing.
“These two are under arrest.”
Oh dear God, I thought, this is ridiculous. Megan was wearing her Abercrombie shirt and I routinely brought Richard Feynman books out for a night on the town (just in case things needed a little livening up). There were underage kids smoking illicit substances ten feet from us — maybe even five feet — and we were somehow the ones in trouble.
The officer told a nearly-hysterical Megan and a collected-as-ever Barb that we were being taken to the Cleveland Heights police station. Megan said she’d meet us there.
The as-yet-nameless officer led a handcuffed Smo down Coventry, instructing me to follow, and as I did as told we walked past some of my gaping schoolmates. Distracted by their confusion I missed seeing LaTrez — high as ever — waving his fist and counseling Smo and me to “Fight the power!”
Smo and I were put in the backseat of the police car as his officer gave his sage advice to us: “I’m twice your size and probably two hundred pounds heavier. Don’t even try to test me.”
In the squad car the officer picked up his radio to communicate with the station. We finally learned his name — Officer Montgomery — and we finally had empirical proof that he was a real cop, not just some Ted Bundy knockoff trying to lure underage juveniles into his bizarre fantasy. After all, he’d never actually introduced himself as a cop to us, or shown us any form of identification.
Smo spent the ride to the station singing the COPS theme under her breath. My parents were less laissez-faire than Smo’s mother and I was not so amused at the situation, elbowing her at the second chorus of “Bad boys, bad boys… whatcha gonna do…”
When we arrived, I was processed while Smo sang show-tunes in the drunk tank. Their questions were fairly straightforward until they asked after the date of my last menstrual period; I was barely comfortable saying the word “period” with no one else around, and sharing such intimate details with two burly male strangers made my face burn with embarrassment. A second cop — a younger, friendly-looking African-American named Adrian — had been brought in to assist in the processing, and he took my coat, necklace, and the shoelaces of my beloved combat boots, placing them in a plastic bag with my name and case number scrawled on it. Then he asked me to take the string out of the waistband of my sweatpants.
I understood fully that this procedure was meant to eliminate any items with which the arrestee could potentially harm themselves. I understood that this request was routine and necessary, and that my refusal would not be the wisest course of action. Still, fear struck at my heart: the sweatpants were not mine. In the popular tradition of my classmates at my all-girls Catholic school, I had borrowed them from a boy — my older brother, granted, not my boyfriend, but St. Ignatius apparel was still St. Ignatius apparel. My anger-prone brother was unaware of my “borrowing,” and the destruction of his sweatpants would ensure my own. I was terrified more by the prospect of returning useless Wildcats paraphernalia to Phil than I was by anything else in the situation.
I took Adrian’s profferred scissors and cut the string of the pants, then moved to pull it out of the waistband. Salvation came in the form of quality textile construction: the string was sewn in at the back of the pants. I stifled my sigh of relief, but what would come to be known as the “Pants Debacle” was only just beginning.
Adrian asked me if I was wearing shorts under the pants, and I was. At this revelation, I was asked to please remove my sweatpants.
I complied, my motivations born from the same innate respect for law enforcement that made me want to be just like Agent Scully when I grew up. My sweatpants were stuffed in the plastic bag and my processing was over.
Smo was brought out. Her first reaction was one of distress.
“Hop, they took your pants!”
I was led to a bland, cinder-block holding area, where I sat shivering on a cold metal stool; sans sweatpants and jacket, I was more than a little chilly in the Cleveland nighttime, teeth chattering as my mind skittered through half a dozen worst-case scenarios — parental ire (even though the curfew they imposed on me was much more generous than the city’s), disbarment from National Honor Society, loss of my scholarship. Just as I had talked myself out of my panic, Smo returned, full of tales from her processing. Once I had explained why I was no longer wearing my pants she launched in a story of how she’d annoyed Officer Montgomery further — apparently in her pocket she’d had a small plastic hamster, a well-guarded good-luck charm of one of her public school classmates that she’d managed to nab. When Officer Montgomery had been listing the items she’d had with her he neglected to include the hamster, and Smo had proceeded to berate his inattention to duty until he’d relented and included the charm in her paperwork. We chatted for a while longer, and then Smo got bored and flashed the security cameras.
Soon after that, we were led to an actual cell, painted in chipping cream-colored paint, a tribute to utilitarianism. When asked if we needed anything, I responded that a blanket would be nice. Later, a female police officer slid a stiff, olive wool blanket through the slot in the door. I had it wrapped around my body before I noticed the crusty white grains along the edges, and for the second time that night, the taste of fear was palpable in my mouth. This blanket obviously had quite a history.
Smo spent the time in our cell devising elaborate escape schemes involving my blanket, the requisite Bible, and the barred window. Then she was escorted out to speak with Officer Montgomery and her newly-arrived mother. After her departure I did mental math: the toilet was positioned against the same wall as the security camera, to give its user some semblance of privacy. Using trigonometric functions I tried to calculate how far away from the wall you could stand without getting caught on tape, drifting into a fitful sleep as I imagined long, graceful arcs of piss cutting across the space.
I was awakened by the female police officer telling me that my father had arrived. Relief and nervous apprehension filled my body as I was led out to a counter where Officer Montgomery was standing with my befuddled father. He said that I had been courteous and respectful, handed me my bag of stuff, and assured me that my high school would not be contacted about the incident. I put my pants back on and left the station in the pre-dawn darkness.
My parents were not even a little bit upset, my scholarship was unaffected, and my National Honor Society eligibility was unblemished; I went on to become the treasurer, giving moving, stoned speeches to dozens of parents and losing an envelope full of cash — but as for my general effort to keep events of my arrest quiet, I failed miserably. The next day at rehearsal, Megan and Barb all but begged to hear what happened. I think everybody in the cast figured out that something significant had transpired when they overheard Megan shriek, “Ohmigod! They took your pants?!” On Monday morning, the schoolmates who had witnessed the handcuffed parade down Coventry found me in the hallway and demanded to know what had happened; my mistreatment earned their indignation, and the story quickly became folklore. My mother’s old roommate, an FBI agent, perhaps put it best when my mother asked if the night would have any long-term consequences: “None. Except that Isa’s a juvenile delinquent now.”