I was almost arrested for being a stranger in my own neighborhood. I had failed to notice before today the sign postings which say “Neighborhood Watch: Please Report Any Suspicious Behavior Or Persons To The Police Department.” I have a tendency to walk with my eyes plastered to the ground rather than staring at the sky. As a child my father would always tell me to keep my chin up.
I have been spending a large majority of time inside the confines of my home. My wife had noticed that I was wearing the same outfit at dinner time that I had slept in the night before. I was feeling out of shape, depressed and concerned about a lingering arrhythmia that I have been noticing in my chest. After dinner I told my wife that I needed to go for a walk. “But it is freezing cold outside,” she replied- to which, I responded “the cold ain’t gonna be what kills me baby.”
I am a tall man. Almost six foot seven to be exact. I have long hair and a strangely long and asymmetrical face. My nose is almost the size of my feet and I have arms which are droopy and mis-proportioned to the rest of my body. I dressed in many layers, stuck on a ski hat which covered my elfin ears and headed out into the great outdoors.
The neighborhood was quiet. Deep in the distance I cold hear cold fog horns. There was an icy bucolic feeling which hung around in the air. Christmas ornaments and lights filled the windows with a strange surreal quality. Inside families seemed to be warm and tragically in love with their lives. I on the other hand was rubbing my hands together for warmth and feeling the alienation that a Jewish man feels around the time of Christmas. I walked slowly, trying to be present with my breath. My footsteps sounded to me like muted knocks against a castle door. I wanted to walk for enough time that it would take the cold to freeze all my problems.
There is a Buddhist mantra that I recite whenever I feel the need. To warm up my lungs and blood I decided to recite the mantra as I walked. Om Mani Padme Hum. I sang this mantra over and over as I walked along, forgetting about time and the loudness of my voice. As soon as I began to forget about the cold I felt the warmth of a white light engulfing my entire body. I turned around and saw the multi-colored lights of a police car flashing and coming directly toward me.
“Sir, can you please step over to the side of the sidewalk and take your hands out from your pocket,” one officer said as he walked toward me with his left hand on the handle of his gun. Another officer stood by the passenger side of the police car shinning a bright flash light directly into my eyes. “What seems to be the problem officer,” I said as I covered my eyes with my hands. “Sir keep your hands by your side,” the officer said to me as he approached where I was standing.
“What are you up to this evening sir,” he said with an official tone of authority. I wanted to say what damn business is it to you what I am up to, this is America and in a free country I have a right to be up to whatever I want without having to tell some low ranking man in a silly uniform what I am up to. “I’m just out for a walk officer,” I said too afraid to express my real feelings. “Do you live around here sir?” What business is that of yours, “Yes, sir I live a few blocks over with my wife and cat.” He looked at me from foot to head as if there was something that he found suspicious about my person- beside my unusual height. “Why are you out for a walk when it is freezing cold outside?” he asked getting a little closer to me. “Because I spend too much time inside.”
I could hear on the police radio a female voice saying that there was a domestic abuse complaint called in on Harrison street. Harrison street was only two blocks from where we were. “Don’t you think you should respond to that since it is so close,” I said suggesting that I was an innocent man out for a harmless walk. “Sir, you need not tell us how to do our jobs,” he said with a tone of contempt in his voice. My tax dollars go toward paying your salary but I can’t tell you how to do your job? I wanted to say but kept the peace. “Can I see some form of identification?” the officer then proceeded to ask.
This reminded me of times in Nazi Germany or any Fascist country when you would be out on a walk minding your own business and an officer would approach you and ask to see your papers. “Why do you need to see my identification,” I asked. “We received a complaint from a home owner in the area who said you were acting and looked suspicious.” “Suspicious?” I replied surprised by what I had just heard. “Look, I live in the neighborhood and have just come out for a leisurely stroll.” “That is all and good sir but can you prove to me that you live in the area and that you are who you say you are,” he said not wanting to let me go. “I did not bring any identification with me.”
The officer than proceeded to pull out pen and a piece of paper and asked me for my name and address plus my drivers license number if I had it. The other officer continued to stand by the car door holding the flash light pointing directly at me. “What is this, am I a stranger in my own neighborhood!!” I asked frantically. But the officer stood there waiting to take down my info.
Across the street, behind the Christmas lights I noticed faces staring out from the warmth of their homes watching the events that where taking place. I was the central protagonist in this realer than real Reality television program. I was the stranger in my own neighborhood.
“He is cleared,” the officer holding the flashlight said as he got confirmation of my identity from the operator. I had given them all the info that they wanted so that I could get out of this humiliating situation. The officer who was standing closest to me said “you are free to go but if you could keep your voice down while you are walking around we would appreciate it.” “Keep my voice down?” “Yes sir, the home owner said that there was a really tall man walking around singing loudly in some kind of tongue language.” “I, I was……,” but I decided to forget it and not even try to explain. “Have a nice evening sir, and make sure you don’t stay in the cold for too long,” he said returning back to his police mobile. Like the law really cares about my well being, I thought. I stood there in a kind of silent stupefaction trying to process what just went on as I watched the police car race off down the street to answer the next call of duty. As soon as the police car disappeared, so did the curious faces behind Christmas lit windows.
I had forgotten about the cold, forgotten about my pain, forgotten about everything that had seemed so important to me not more than twenty minutes before. I walked home as quickly as my nimble legs would allow. Who could the home owner that reported me be, I kept saying over and over to myself looking in the windows of strangers homes seeing if anyone looked like a possible candidate. When I finally arrived back in the warmth of my dimly lit home my wife came out and said, “what took you so long I thought you had frozen to death or gotten arrested.”