You Know How I Recognized You?
I am a police officer who specializes in doing undercover work. In all modesty, I got the gig because I am good at being hard to recognize, being anonymous, non-distinctive. The clothes I wear in the drug-dealing, prostitution, mugging area of this fair city is instrumental in my blending in with the environment, and being hard to remember, like a crack in the sidewalk that I walk on when playing my role.
I wear faded jeans, with slight rips in them, not the big ones that are now reborn as fashionable apparel for a second generation of young women. I wonder whether they buy them like that. I pre-faded mine, and made the small holes with a very sharp knife.
My shoes are Nikes, first bought and worn in 1984, when Michael Jordan was the advertising star for them, and “Just Do It” was still four years away. My shoes should be called “They once did it.”
My shirt once had a logo on it, but it cannot be distinguished now, and I often fail to remember what it once was. I think it was from some local band that I liked, the name of which has now slipped out of my mind. Perhaps if I took some of the same drugs that I did then I would remember.
My jacket is especially important, because in the inside pocket I am, as the expression goes, ‘wearing a wire.’ This old gray jacket was my father’s and his father’s before him. It doesn’t look like it was ever new.
Finally, there is my gray hat. If this hat could speak it would say ‘My owner is an immigrant from a warm country, so he has to wear a dorky hat with the flaps pulled down to combat the cold weather we have here.’ I didn’t want to wear this hat, but my boss said I needed to do so. I have reddish coloured hair which can be thought of as somewhat distinctive, thereby making me noticeable. The hat covers all that hair. I do not shave, as that is not what my ‘street person’ character would do, so I dye my slightly reddish stubble a kind of ashen gray.
A Working Night
It was a working night, so I was walking down one of the city’s sleazier streets, getting ready to sit on my designated begging spot, to observe, record and remember who I saw doing what. Just before I assumed my sitting begging position, a very drunk man exited from a bar, stumbling, beginning to tumble towards the road. A flashy car was approaching rapidly. I recognized it as being owned by one of the main drug dealers whose territory this is.
I realized that collision between the two was imminent, so I rushed over to the falling man, and pulled him away from danger. He grabbed my head so that he wouldn’t fall backwards, but lurched forward and hit the sidewalk, safely, but somewhat painfully.
He thanked me profusely, in a deep, drunken voice, following this with a “I don’t usually drink this much, but my wife just left me. I have no one.” Then he hailed a cab and left.
The rest of the night was relatively uneventful. I came very close to falling asleep several times.
The Next Night
The next night was more eventful in a positive way. I felt that I had truly earned my pay. While sitting at my usual spot at the corner of the front of the bar and a decidedly seedy-looking alleyway, I witnessed close by something incriminating – a drug deal orchestrated by a one of the men who worked for the guy with the flashy car from the previous night. He was a local big shot in the trade. The negotiations were loud enough that they were recorded by ‘the wire’. I was nearly invisible as a non-person sitting by the bar, occasionally begging, so I thought I would not be noticed. I hoped that with this evidence, we could finally arrest him and put him away for good.
Eventually, finally, the time came when I felt that I could leave my post. The bars in the area were all closed and emptied, the streets seemed abandoned except for those who slept in the alleyway. I was somewhat energized by what ‘the wire’ and I had witnessed. So I decided to make my way to the station not too far away to deposit my flash drive and write down what I had seen and heard. What I didn’t know at the time was that I was being followed.
The guy at the desk gave me a look, wondering what this aging street urchin was doing walking boldly through the front door of a police station. So I took off my ear-flapped hat, and got a smile of recognition when he saw my reddish hair. I did what I came to do, and left for home and some well-earned sleep. I successfully managed not to wake the kids, who would later be told by their mother not to wake their dad, with a lot less success. They wanted to know whether I had caught any criminals. I told them that ‘it was possible’, not a very satisfying answer for them to hear.
The Next Night
The next night began in the usual way. Nothing much was going on, at least in the first few hours. Then it happened. I had just stood up to stretch my legs a bit, looking through the bar front window to see who was there could be a suspect, when I felt something very sharp poking me in the back. Then the voice that I remembered from the night before spoke to me sharply. “So, you’re a cop, eh. We can’t have you interfering with our business”. He pushed me forward towards the alleyway. I tried to remember what I had been schooled to do in just such a situation. Nothing useful came to mind. I was getting frantic.
I didn’t have to think long. Another voice spoke up, deep and authoritative, with a touch of the drink. “Back off, buddy”, he said. The sharp pain in my back stopped. And I could hear the sound of my assailant crashing head-first to the hard surface of the sidewalk.
I turned to see the smiling face of the man whom I had saved the night before. He looked at me and said, “You know how I recognized you?...It was the hat. You’re the only one I’ve ever seen with such a hat.” We hugged over the motionless body of my attacker. He must have hit his head hard when he was thrown to the sidewalk.
The Next Day
When I went to the station the next day, and told my story, I was given another assignment, one that involved a lot of paperwork. My cover had been blown. I didn’t mind. I could see my wife and kids more often. I still wear the hat sometimes still when the weath gets cold. I don’t care what anybody thinks.