Over the years, I’ve learned that it’s generally best to keep your mouth shut in a sticky situation. It took me a few run-ins with the police in my teenage years to figure this out. At first, I’d try to explain my way out of the situation, which often just made things worse. In a bind, you have to play dumb—just stand there expressionless and don’t speak unless spoken to. If a cop asks you a question, just respond in the simplest way possible and don’t offer any additional information. Better yet, just remain as still and unassuming as possible so they don’t ask you anything at all. I vividly recall the first time this worked for me.
One night my friends and I were drinking beers in the parking lot of a townhouse complex, right outside the home of a spazzy, squirrely younger kid with a shaved head named Theo. This was the same kid that I was later handcuffed to when I got arrested, but at this time we shared no such experience. Theo was kind of a bitch, but we could hang out and blaze at his house because he didn’t give a shit what his mom said. He thought it impressed us, but we all secretly hated him for being rude to his own mother. We’d be nothing but polite when she answered the door, and then Theo would roll down and say something like, “What the fuck mom, those are my friends, let ‘em in!” He sucked, but his house was a place to blaze, and we were always short on those. That evening, threw a little party for a friend of his who came to visit. He was an intense, trashy kid named Dennis. He kept us entertained with stories of fistfights over trivial matters and arguments that he won against service industry workers. You could tell he had a short fuse, but he was chilling and happy to see his friend Theo.
The party was nothing too crazy—just a dozen people drinking beers and passing around blunts. Theo was beaming, delighted to be hosting the shindig, and chatting incessantly in his squeaky voice. As I got more stoned, my tolerance level for Theo’s voice dropped sharply, so I walked a few yards away and hopped into the shotgun seat of my friend’s car to smoke a cigarette. From my vantage point, I could see the entire scene. Theo was facing a group of dudes and gesticulating while he spoke. Two parking spaces down, Dennis and a chick shared a bottle of clear liquor. I noticed a police car cruising down the road towards Theo’s house.
I thought to signal the party by flashing the car’s headlights, but when I looked back over, the group of dudes Theo was talking to were gone, and Theo was feebly trying to decide which way to run. Everyone else had discretely dispersed, but poor, inexperienced Theo was stricken with panic. As I watched him fall to pieces, I mumbled to myself, “Run to the back of the house, you little turd.” As much as I personally disliked Theo, it was never pleasant watching a guy get intercepted by the cops. I was rooting for him.
To my dismay, the cop car stopped right behind the car I sat in. I slunk down in the shotgun seat and put my cigarette out in the ashtray. I glanced back over at where Theo was standing and he was gone. The cop car turned on its searchlight and flashed it onto steep, grassy incline next to Theo’s house. The beam revealed Theo scrambling up the hill holding a plastic bag full of beers. As soon as the light hit him, he spun around, his beady eyes staring directly into the light. In that moment, he was so squirmy and rat-like that I chuckled a little bit. Right as I laughed, I heard the cops cracking up as well. I watched as one of them ran up the hill into the beam of light, grabbed Theo by the collar, and threw him down the hill. In one fluid tumble, Theo rolled down the hill and into the clenches of the second cop, who slammed him hard against the cop car. “And where the fuck are you going?” The cop said as he frisked Theo. I watched in the side view mirror as the cops roughly frisked him and emptied his pockets.
A voice came from the other side of my car, “Don’t hurt him.” Both cops stopped and looked over my trunk at Dennis, Theo’s easy-to-snap homie from out of town. “And who the fuck is this guy?” one of the cops said as he walked around my car and grabbed Dennis’s arms behind his back. “He’s my friend, and I don’t like it when people hurt him,” Dennis said. The cops looked at each other like this had just made their night. They sat Dennis down on the curb and started going through the contents of Theo’s pockets, now spread out on the hood of the cop car. “Oh man, you were ready for a party tonight,” said one of the cops. “You got papers, some weed, some cigarettes, and…” he trailed off as he pulled an aluminum foil square out of Theo’s wallet. “A condom!” the cop exclaimed. “Planning on getting lucky tonight, buddy?” he asked Theo, who rubbed his bald head and mumbled, “Yeah, you never know, um, safety first, always be prepared.” Both the cops and me started laughing again. By now, I felt pretty secure in my hiding spot. I figured if I just didn’t move, I would slip through this whole ordeal unnoticed.
One of the cops started roughing up Theo again, verbally taunting him. The other cop called out, “Whoa, get a load of the other guy.” Dennis was sitting on the curb breathing heavily, grunting hard with every exhale like he was about to go full berserker. The cop asked him what the hell was wrong with him and Dennis replied ominously, “I get really mad when people hurt him.” The cop processed this for a second and then swung around to break it down for the other cop. “OK, so this guy’s fucking crazy. That kid tried to run away from us up a hill, and… well, who do we have here?” The cop was looking directly at me.
The cops pulled me out of the car and sat me down on the curb next to Dennis. One of them continued to harass Theo. The other cop asked me a handful of questions, but Dennis’s heavy breathing interrupted each of them. Neither the cop nor me could focus because it looked like this kid was about to snap at any second. Next to him, I looked completely harmless. I simply said nothing and sat there looking up at the cop as he tried not to stare at Dennis for too long. Finally the cop pulled me aside. “Do you know this guy?” he asked. I shook my head. He pursed his lips and then followed up, “So you don’t know what the deal is here? Like, why that guy is hyperventilating over there?” I shook my head again. “Were you at the party?” he asked. Again, a headshake. “Why were you sitting in your car?” I thought about how I should respond for a moment, and then I just shook my head again. “OK,” the cop said. “Nevermind.” He turned back to the other cop and said, “The Mexican kid doesn’t know shit, I don’t even know if he understands me.” The other cop responded, “Cut him loose.”
I walked away from the situation right there, and surprisingly so did Theo and Dennis a few minutes later. I guess the cops just didn’t want to contend with whatever weird love made Dennis so keen on protecting Theo. Ever since then, I’ve always kept my mouth shut when the shit hits the fan. I don’t always have an insane person to direct the attention away from myself, but if I’m lucky the cops will just figure I don’t speak English and leave me alone.
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