The young man running down the front steps of the apartment building towards Doug had trouble keeping his bathrobe closed. He was visibly angry and with every exaggerated step of his loafers the garment would fall out of his hands.
“Wait! Wait! I’m gonna move it”
The chunky black printer on Doug’s belt purred. He ripped the ticket from the teeth of the machine and slid it into a bright envelope that was then stuck underneath the windshield wiper of the Jetta.
“It’s too late.” Doug said while pointing a thick finger to a “resident's only” sign.
The man’s eyes face reddened as if he was choking. The bathrobe became an afterthought, exposing a soft furry belly to the morning sun and a woman changing a bike tire.
“But I was right here!” Spittle flew. Doug couldn’t stop staring at the white stuff at the edge of the man's lips.
“This is for resident’s only sir. Read the sign” Doug quit apologizing a long time ago.
“My girlfriend lives here, I’ll go get her!”
Doug turned and started walking towards Boylston street.
“Seriously?! Wow. I hope you’re happy with yourself. Fucking meter maid— I bet your family hates you.”
He wasn’t unhappy, he wasn’t happy either. Doug just was. He lacked introspection— his younger colleagues might have spiraled a little after his last citation. Does my family hate me? My wife has been a little distant, she’s been coming to bed later than usual. I wonder what she’s doing? Should I check her browser history? Who would keep the house in the divorce? My son didn’t say goodbye to me this morning…
His brain didn’t have space allotted for those musings—in their place was static, white noise, like a radio between stations. He preferred to focus on other things. Who were the Bruins going to trade this season? We need a new goalie. Did the Righteous Brothers, Allman Brothers, and Doobie Brothers ever play together? How much would that concert cost? I wonder what Maureen is making for dinner….
He told his older sister,a nurse, this once and she rolled her eyes and said he should see a therapist. I really don’t know what we’d talk about, he replied.
His eyes scoured Boylston for the red flashing lights of expired parking meters. It was still early Saturday morning, the shops were closed, most of the cars were local residents without passes and the occasional visitor. The third meter he approached was expired. He took a picture of the license plate with his e-citation device. Instantly he had the owner's name and past citations. Currently, Ian Besemer had no outstanding parking tickets. Doug’s waist buzzed and clicked and soon Mr. Besemer was in debt to the Commonwealth to the sum of $60.
He’d written thirty-four citations by noon and was getting hungry. He normally ate alone in his patrol car, his wife packed his lunch everyday except for Saturdays. Saturdays he had lunch at Dillon’s with Anthony, a younger officer patrolling locally.
He arrived at the restaurant early so he decided to circle around the block. The sidewalks were rife with window shoppers and tourists. He slalomed between and around linked hands and strollers, walking at accelerated pace that garnered odd looks.
“Asshole.” A voice spat. He jerked his neck around and saw only the backs of heads.
A bus hissed and pulled away from the curb, revealing a 1980’s Mercedes parked in the bus lane. He took a picture of the license plate and waited for the computer to process. The screen flickered and went black . Odd, Doug thought. He pressed the button on the side and waited for a sign of functionality. He pressed the button three times. Nothing. This hasn’t happened before. He sat on the stone steps of a bank and peered down the slit in the bottom of the phone— he wasn’t sure what he was looking for. Maybe I should blow in it. He shook his head.
“Hey Asshole.” The cadence of the insult was playful. He looked up and saw that the Mercedes was gone and the wiry frame of Anthony cast a shadow over his dead computer.
“You need me to help you up old man?” Anthony extended his hand. Doug swatted it away and grunted his way into an upright position.
“Hey, have you ever had problems with your handheld?” Doug asked.
“Nah, well not yet. Why?”
“Mine crapped out on my last citation.”
“Fully charged as of this morning, Only spent four hours on it so far.”
Anthony’s expression turned pensive. His eyebrows lowered towards the bridge of his nose.
“I’m sure it’s nothing. I’ll take a look at the restaurant.” Anthony said.
“Not a problem. I know how you boomers are with technology. You probably burned it out trying to play Mah Jong.”
Doug forced a laugh. You can’t play games on it.
The restaurant was loud—full with tables of college kids and their gallon pitchers of Bloody Mary’s decorated with comically large garnishes of celery sticks and slabs of bacon. The two ponied up to the bar joining a handful of men at the bar watching ESPN with the sound off. Anthony had removed his work shirt on the walk over—you could see his ribs through his white t-shirt that was tucked into the city issued navy blue pants. His skin was the color of almonds, with the skins still on, not the fancy ones found on cheese plates. Doug didn’t bother changing, at a glance people mistook him for a police officer, some even referred to him as “Officer.” He liked that. Thank you for your service officer. My pleasure citizen.
They placed their order, Anthony got something different every time, Doug stuck with the wings, not because they were good, they weren’t, but because he couldn’t have them at home. Maureen plied his body with organic, non gmo, no fat, no flavor, “no thank you“ food. What was that new thing? Quinoa? It tasted like grains of sand, she served it as a cold salad with walnuts, apples, and parsley.
As they waited for their food Doug regaled the younger officer with the story of his first ticket of the day. Anthony ate it up, all the war stories, grievances of the job, the drama of it all. He slapped the bar hard when Doug got to the part of the bathrobe coming undone.
“Aw man, that’s rich Dougie. That’s good.”
He hated it when he called him that, it was a fine nickname when he was a kid, but no grown man with a modicum of dignity wanted to referred to as Dougie. Officer Dougie. Who’d take him seriously?
“Give me your thing.” Anthony said with a mouth full of eggs and hollandaise.
Doug unclipped his device from his belt and slid it down the bar. Anthony’s fingers left smudges on the screen as it illuminated in his dark hand. He navigated through the settings with quick swipes, then proceeded to open and close programs. Without removing his eyes from the screen he tilted his head and sucked soda through a straw.
“It’s fine.” He chuckled and set the device down next to Dougs plastic basket of chicken. Doug blushed. How he hated modern technology. He thanked Anthony and picked it up—It went dark, the only color were the yellow glops of hollandaise. Anthony’s eyes popped and he drew his head back into his neck.
“That’s fucking weird.” He muttered. He grabbed the phone out of Doug's hands without permission. Again a flutter of swipes resuscitated the tiny computer.
“Are we going to order any more food officers?” The bartender asked as she filled Anthony’s plastic cup back up with the soda gun.
“We’re all set.” Doug replied, he could feel his chest getting tight. “I’m late getting back.”
He stood up and pushed the barstool back, the legs made a loud honking noise as they dragged against the floor.
“Yo, don’t forget your piece.” Anthony held the phone over his shoulder. Doug retrieved it from his friend, the light went out as soon as fingers touched it.
“You might want to get yourself checked out Officer Magnet Hands.”
Back at his patrol car, Doug had the contents of his glove box splayed on the passenger seat. Two more devices identical to the one he had been using all morning lay next to car paperwork and two chargers, one for the car and one for an AC outlet. He had the same results with each device. It would light up for a half second and soon he’d be staring at his own baffled expression. He had the AC unit on high but he could feel sweat behind his ears and beads rolling slowly down his lower back into his trousers. Is it something I did? It has to be a mistake. I can’t call the unit, what would they do? Send more? What am I going to do?
He wasn’t used to this overwhelming feeling of impairment. Looking down at the car seat he saw three reflections of his podgy and panicked face. I look pale. Am I sick? I’m dying. He brought two fingers to his neck and pressed down. He realized he didn’t know where his pulse was. He tried each device one more time, pushing the buttons harder before throwing them on the floor after each failed attempt to restart them. He unclasped the radio unit from his left side and pressed the button.
“This is Officer Douglass Cooper, requesting coverage for the remainder of the day. I’ve taken ill.” He threw the walkie talkie on the passenger side floor and drove the patrol car back to the station.
His neighbor Gary was near the property line when Doug pulled his car into the driveway. Gary was bent over with a green bag around his hand following a squatting toy Maltese on the patchy crab grass. He put his head down, walked up the brick steps to his front porch and opened the screen door.
“Officer Doug!” Gary waved with his clean hand. He jogged over to the chain link fence that separated the two lawns and leaned forwards, unbothered by the warm bag in his hand.
“Real quick…” It was never real quick. Gary’s sentences often evolved into long drawn out stories with too many characters and sad endings.
“I’ve been meaning to ask you about the motion detector light. “ He pointed to it with his bag hand.
“It goes off frequently during the night and shines right into my bedroom window.” He waved the bag towards the side of the house. It’s contents shifted as it shook.
“It’s right in my eyes, look you can see my bed through the window…”
Doug forced a key into his front lock and pushed the door op—- kicking the package that rolled out onto the carpet inside the house. His head pounded—the white noise he was used to was amplified, no longer white but dark and with gravity, drowning everything out but the nasal sound of his neighbors voice. I need water. That’ll make me feel better.
“Pull the shade down.” He said.
“You know how I like to get up with the sun. Got to get as much as that natural light as possible!” Gary raised his voice to compete with the growing distance between them. He was shouting while maintaining an air of happiness.
“ You know the Swedes don’t use shades or blinds at all…”
“Then use a shade or move to Sweden, Gary.” Doug closed the door behind him, he could’ve sworn Gary called him an asshole as he turned the deadbolt lock to the right.
By Sunday morning he’d almost forgotten there was an issue at work. He’d made French toast for the twins and egg whites for Maureen and himself, dousing his portion with sriracha sauce. Maureen cleaned up the kitchen as he dressed the twins for church, tying knots in their black ties and putting dress shoes on squirming feet.
They arrived a few minutes late and took a seat in the row in the back. The church had its usual damp smell, thick and musky, like an old cedar chest. He noticed the usual spring palette of church dress— faded earth tones for the gentlemen and pastels for the women. The priest was reading an epistle from Paul to Corinthians in a dulcet tone.
“It smells funny.” Whined one of the kids. It echoed. Maureen grabbed his thin arm and dug her nails into the soft spot of the bicep.
“Be quiet.” She whispered. The boy slumped into his seat sliding his feet as far underneath the pew in front of them as possible. The old church organ sounded out of breath as it groaned Amazing Grace, Doug found it soothing and hummed along.
The sky was dark despite it being nearly seven in the morning, rain clouds loomed overhead casting a grey shroud over the city. Gary was pulling his trashcan back towards the house when Doug left for work. They nodded and traded insincere smiles like bit characters in a 1950’s sitcom. He stopped at the station and changed into his uniform, pausing in front of the bathroom mirror, giving himself a once over. The stiff shirt stuck to areas he wasn’t proud of— for the first time in ten years he felt embarrassment as a parking enforcement officer. Meter Maid. He switched his three devices with three new ones, attaching one to his belt and taking the other two as back up. They’re not going to work. What am I going to do? Asshole. I’ll get fired for sure. Relax Doug, use handwritten tickets. No. They don’t hold up in court anymore. He impulsively grabbed an old ticketbook from the office on his way out the door.
On the drive to his jurisdiction he was consumed with dread, he could feel it burrow into his shoulders and nest in the curve of his neck. He parked a few hundred feet from where the man in the bathrobe chewed him out. It was street cleaning day and he was staring at at least eleven cars on the wrong side of the road.
If you get fired, will Maureen have to go back to work? What about the twins Catholic School?
The first piece of hail that shot down left a divet in the corner of his windshield. Four more hit the roof, they had the tenor of a snare drum. His thumb pressed the side button on his citation device, then his second device, and the last one. Thirteen. There were thirteen cars that were disobeying the local traffic. More hail pelted the car. Are you prepared to have basically two days with no tickets? What about tomorrow? Fuck it. He pulled a rain slicker from the back seat and put it on.
He swung the door open and ran towards the first car. 1SKY3V, Honda Sonata, Officer Douglass Cooper, Street Cleaning, $60, then slapped it under the wiper.
The wind started picking up as did his pace. Within ten minutes he had half the street ticketed. He was reminded of the tall tale they learned in grade school, about John Henry, the railroad worker that raced against a steam drill machine, nailing railroad spikes. He couldn’t remember who won, he was pretty sure it was Henry. The wind howled as it kicked over garbage cans and the hail came at him side ways, leaving welts on his exposed face. The voice in his head was gone and he started laughing. Chunks of ticket paper were ripped from the windshields and showered the parked cars like a ticker tape parade. Doug laughed harder.