Last month a great crime was finally paid for by yours truly. Over the summer, way back in June, a group of friends were having a late-Friday-afternoon get together in Central Park. My friend Charlie S was soon to embark back to Beijing for an open-ended assignment, and this was a small gathering for goodbye. Four of us sat on top of the big rocks up by 62nd and Fifth drinking canned beer. Soon we were approached by four men in t-shirts and gym shorts, who looked like they were about to go on a run. Something about them looked bad to me, and a second later I knew what it was: they pulled badges out from under their shirts on necklaces and identified themselves as the police.
Our crime was drinking in public; or rather, more specifically, “holding open alcohol containers in public.” Apparently, the drinking itself is not the problem – it’s the open containers. My three friends, who were used to coming to this spot before their weekly softball games (not a very demanding sport, I suppose, if they’re used to having a few beers before the first pitch), were slack-jawed as the cops explained that we would be written up and, if we so chose, could appear in the NYC criminal court to defend ourselves – though they also said this would be a bad idea, and could cause us further trouble. The easiest thing to do would be to just pay the fine.
“And what is the fine, officer?” one of us asked.
At this, a wave of relief and surprise, and even a scoff from Crum, who paired it with one of his trademark “this is not a problem” eyebrow-cocks. Twenty-five bucks was not such a big hit.
The cops kept explaining that we had the right to challenge our accusers, that we could have our day in court if we wished, but that the courts were very busy and that they didn’t usually look kindly on those trying to get out of paying drinking-in-public fines. Having already been through the court system once in 2008, I was not about to take a day off work to fight a $25 civil complaint, especially since there would be no public announcement of my crime.
So it wasn’t a big deal, except that they were taking forever to write out the tickets, and these three had to get to their game in a bit. Strangely, although there were four of them, only one – who seemed to be the leader – was writing tickets. And they took a good ten minutes each. Luckily, we caught a small break.
“You know, you guys can go ahead and finish your beers if you want.”
“Yeah,” the officer in charge repeated. “We figure, you’ve been caught, you gotta pay the fine anyway, you might as well enjoy yourselves the rest of the day. Go ahead.”
We all hesitated, thinking this surely must be some kind of entrapment. Again, we pressed him: Really?
“Seriously,” he said. “It’s a beatuful day in the park. There’s nothing I’d like to be doing more than cracking a few brews in the sun right now. I gotta work, but you guys don’t. You’re already paying for it, you might as well enjoy it.”
So we each opened another can and shot the breeze with these undercover NYPD, most of which were not that much older than us, and when they were done, so were we, and it was time to go.
Six months later, NYC Criminal Court finally cashed my check.