Biff America column: Youth, strength and stupidity
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 ’60s and ’70s around the Boston area. Rudy Giamarco and I took the subway to Park Street to see 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 who we might meet.
We arrived late and all the good places to sit/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 the tenet of 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 is not a high crime, but we recognized it was forbidden and yet decided to take our chances.
When the cop approached, I knew we were busted. But I also knew that he probably had a lot more important things to do than arrest two goof-ball kids for climbing a tree. As he walked over, Rudy had already started to climb down.
In a thick Boston accent, the cop said something to the effect of “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 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 I could do quite a few one handed pull-ups. Sadly shoulder and back strength wasn’t commensurate with intellect. So rather than jump down like Rudy, I hung from a low branch, about 2-3 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? Wrong.
Rather, in response to my query he grabbed me by the back of my pants, pulled hard and said, “Nah, but I can do this.”
My nose and forehead scraped 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 and stupid, I knew Rudy was right.
It seems since Ferguson, and before, there has been a lot of coverage and charges of police brutality. Like most everything now it has degenerated into a political litmus test — the right often claiming force mostly justified, the left demanding reform.
Diverting from my newfound practice of not offering opinions of stuff I know little about, I will risk offering an opinion. Yes, there are most certainly countless 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.
But I do think those cases are the minority. We put men and woman in a horrendously intense and stressful situations and ask them to behave in an always rational manner. Most of us have a natural inclination to avoid a situation 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 any time a policeman 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.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at email@example.com.