The spring of 1962, age 21, I became a policeman for the summer in Ocean City, Maryland, a ten-mile-long island on the Atlantic and the state’s most popular summer resort.
To hear cops on TV shows like “America’s Most Wanted” tell it, they all joined the force because they wanted to “give something back to the community” or because police work is “about helping people.” Etc., ad barfum. TV cops these days all sound like that scary-looking Dr. Joyce Brothers.
Also, they are lying. They wanted to be cops so they could be paid to be adrenalized; to see trouble and drama and dark emotion; to chase cars and people, to exercise authority, to exact a little justice, maybe to impose their will on somebody else. Or maybe they just needed a job.
I certainly had my motives. The strongest of them was that I wanted to be a writer. I thought being a cop would help me psyche people out, license me as a kind of pragmatic shrink to analyze the orb’s patients up close.
Also, the fact was that I had read too many Nelson Algren and James Jones novels, and had become impressed by jacket blurbs listing colorful and incongruous descriptions of the author’s past, like “rodeo rider, short-order cook, private eye, merchant seaman, hobo.” I needed some future book blurbs of my own. “Cop” was a natural.
A final motive: I had already developed the writer’s infatuation with irony. To a once rebellious, pretentiously literate former teenager like me, being a policeman was irony tasty enough to bring home to feed Mama.
I’ll give you an example. On e night during my first week on t he job, as I strolled the crowded b oardwalk done up in my new cop’s out fit, practicing nightstick twirls for the amusement of passers-by, someone shouted my name from a restau rant door. Not the name I preferred, but a dreaded childhood handle: “Dickie, Dickie Carlson! Is that you? My God, Topper, it’s Dickie!”
This loud cry was coming, I realized, from Mrs. Topper Jones, the mother of my closest boyhood friend. Mrs. Jones had always liked me, even during my most ill-behaved period. Her husband (a Rhode Island state senator and on-fire New Deal liberal) was much less forgiving in his judgments. The last time I had seen Mr. and Mrs. Jones was when Topper Junior and I had been arrested for buying booze–and for stealing the car in which we were caught drinking.
Mrs. Jones, at least, was apparently no longer holding that against me. She ran out and grabbed my hands. She was laughing. She said, “Dickie, you were such a little hoodlum. I cannot believe you are a policeman. I thought you might be a criminal by now!” My feelings were a little hurt, but I had been working to perfect the cynical and semi-clever riposte as a good defense. “Well,” I said, “it’s always been a choice of one or the other–or the priesthood. But, this is just for the summer. I still have time to become a criminal.”
Ocean City boosted the size of its police force from a dozen or so in winter to forty-five in summer. I knew this because I had spent a night on the floor of the Ocean City jail the previous Labor Day weekend in the stumbling wake of the “2nd Annual Ocean City Riot,” a gathering in which I was peripherally involved.
The cop who had locked me up was a high school history teacher in Delaware during the winter. The next day, after he cut me loose, I sat in the morning sun outside the jail pampering my hangover and chatting him up. Good guy. He said it was a fun job. All winter in college I nourished the idea of coming back the next summer and signing up.
I spent my first week in town at the Shoreham Hotel at 4th Street and Boardwalk. This was a four-story wooden of weathered shingles with white trim, built in the early twenties or before, with a long veranda facing the ocean. It was owned by a friend of mine’s father, who put me up in the empty dining room, which was closed for the summer. The room was boarded up from the lobby, and entrance was through a window from the porch. I hung my clothes in a broom closet. I had a fold-up cot. There was no shower, but there was a bathtub and toilet connected to the dining room. It belonged to a separate bedroom with its own outside entrance. This was inhabited by a very tanned, broad-faced fellow in his 30’s named R-Bob, who ran a beach stand renting surf mats and umbrellas and was similarly employed in Fort Lauderdale in the winter.
R-Bob was conventionally clean-shaven but nurtured a thick patch of hair on each cheekbone, making him look much like the Cowardly Lion.
“R-Bob” was short for Rowing Bob. This derived from his practice of laboring an ancient, unpainted rowboat through the surf every morning using oars he’d made from tent poles to which he had wired yellow traffic signs. (One said “Ped Xing”; the other “School Zone.”) R-Bob would row arduously about for an hour or two, a quarter mile from shore. “Looking for dolphins,” he once told me when I asked what he did out there every morning.
R-Bob was a fixture at his rental stand on the beach at 4th Street, and he was enterprising. In the afternoons, carrying a huge window screen from the hotel, he would sift the sand for coins and other goodies. Anything he couldn’t sell was appended to the wall of his bedroom, tacked or taped up, and included dozens of cheap rings, a collection of pens, buttons, bangle bracelets, and a dental bridge with three teeth.
On my first morning, I walked to the police station and met the chief of police, V. Jack Phillips. He was a hefty, friendly, dark-haired, 52-year-old former Baltimore P.D. detective who had been hired in the wake of the Labor Day riots of 1960.
The mayor and city council wanted him to recruit younger policemen with hopes they would “get along better” with vacationing college students than the local men traditionally hired as constables every summer. The emphasis was on school teachers and third-year law students.
The chief signed me up, handed me a copy of local misdemeanor ordinances and Maryland state law, and told me to learn them. He gave me a badge, number 76; a citation book, a brass call-box key, and an ash nightstick. He then assigned me for a few days of orientation to a regular police officer, Jim Jarman.
Jim was a local boy from Worcester County, about 24, married and living in nearby Berlin. I liked him immediately.
Jarman took me to a gun shop where I bought a used, chrome-plat ed .38 caliber revolver with white plastic grips embossed with the heads of long-homed steers. The gun had such a long barrel it looked like a toy. I bought it, as well as a gunbelt and holster, handcuffs, a chrome whistle on a lanyard, and a blackjack, all for $50. And the shop owner threw in something he called “The Claw.” This was an iron device a little like one handcuff. It had a short iron bar as a handle. Twisting it lightly would close two iron pincers. Seize a wrist bone with them, or a forearm (or even a throat, as a cop I knew once did), ratchet the pincers closed with a light flick of the wrist, and Hulk Hogan would be on his knees in one second. It really hurt.
As a key to police thinking you should know the Claw was once quite popular with departments across the country. It has been outlawed as inhumane for years.
One of the first things I did as a newly sworn member of the Ocean City Police Department was take a look at the concrete wall in the far corner of one of the four cells in the back of the station house. I was gratified to see that my initials, scratched in the year before with a ball-point pen, were still there.
I called my friend Ed Crawford. He had just arrived back at his parents’ home in New Hampshire from college. Ed had also just turned 21, the minimum age for the police department. I told him to take the bus down to Ocean City if he was interested. I’d help get him hired. Ed was very short, but tough as a carbuncle, and just as touchy.
I laid the groundwork with the chief for Ed’s employment. Worried that the chief would think Ed looked too…abbreviated, I stressed his brute strength and success in saloon disputes. (“And the good thing is, chief, he’s polite, and good-natured. He just doesn’t like to be pushed around, if you know what I mean.”) The chief did know, although I didn’t tell him how much Ed hated being bullied. It wasn’t that he had a low boiling point; he was always cooking at about 200 degrees. For example, the only safe way to wake Ed in the morning was at a distance, preferably by throwing something at him. Disturbing Ed in bed was dangerous, particularly if he had been drinking the night before. His head, red and sore-looking, hair pasted to his forehead, one eye open but hooded, would explode from the covers like the monster in Alien, and his fists would be swinging. Ed claimed that in high school he accidentally knocked out his mother when she tried to shake him in the morning. She never really got over it, said Ed, who still felt guilty.
Ed was hired. The job paid $60 a week and a free bunk in the police barracks next to City Hall, if you wanted it. Ed didn’t have enough money for his own gun, so for $10 I let him buy into mine.The trick would be to arrange it so that Ed and I were never on the same shift at the same time, since one of us would be without a firearm.
Ed and I failed to hook up a number of times. The first time it happened, Ed was on the 3 to 11 and I was working the overnight. I waited for him in the police station parking lot, where we usually made the trade (a “guns for the gunless” project), but he was tied up taking an accident report and couldn’t get back in time.
Lieutenant Ira Allen always held an inspection at the beginning of our shift. As he walked around, his enormous German police dog “Edsel” was practically joined to his hip. I loved dogs, but Edsel made me nervous. Edsel had prehistorically large teeth, like an alligator. He had taken a bite out of Jim Jarman once, apparently just as a warning. Edsel’s only real interest was the lieutenant who he appeared to be in love with and was always flashing goo-goo eyes at. Everybody else was treated like a potential meal. Sometimes the lieutenant would ask me to walk Edsel on the beach at sunrise. Even on a tight leash I knew he wasn’t under my control. He was aloof and distracted, pining for the lieutenant presumably. He was also menacingly strong. Jim Jarman got a German police dog later in the summer named “Rex.” Rex was as wary of Edsel as I was.
At inspection we would line up in the city hall parking lot, and the lieutenant would brief us and walk around. Lt. Allen was mostly interested in clean shirts and shined shoes. It wouldn’t occur to him that I didn’t have a gun. Just in case, I hung an arm over my holster as he walked by.
Sent off on my beat, I began walking up Baltimore Street to find Ed and our revolver. It was a busy night and some tourists fell in behind me. It was a family. A small boy’s voice said, “Dad, that policeman doesn’t have a gun.” I didn’t turn around. The father said, “Well, son, maybe they don’t trust him.” I turned off into the next alley without looking back.
The beach highway to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, was through a mostly uninterrupted swath of deserted, grassy sand dunes. It was to this area that Jim Jarman and I were sometimes assigned to patrol at night in a dune-buggy. We are talking the Morality Police.
This movable raid, which we would engage in for an hour or two around midnight of the overnight shift, was designed solely to inhibit fornication and drinking on the vast stretch of beach and dunes.
The council was right in its suspicions about the dunes to the north. There was definitely a lot going on up there. Jarman and I broke it up regularly. We would race up a dune with our buggy lights out, flicking them on when we hit the top and were pointing down the opposite slope. We did this one night and so badly frightened a couple that the girl, in only her underpants, ran down the beach and into the surf. The boy, wearing only a tee shirt, ran the other way. The woman swam 100 yards out past the breakers and couldn’t seem to get back. After ten minutes of yelling to her I took off my uniform and gear and swam out to her. She was treading water and was tired. I was afraid she would struggle but she didn’t I helped her back in through the surf. Her boyfriend had driven off, and left her behind. He had also left his clothes, a blanket and a six pack of beer.
After the girl dressed, and was in the buggy, I went and buried the guy’s clothes in the sand, including his wallet. We gave her a ride back into town. She came over to my house the next evening for a party. We kept the unopened beer.
Most O.C. cops were hesitant to arrest people a few years younger than themselves for simple possession of booze. Of course, this kindness offered a useful justification to a cop for confiscating booze, taking it home, and drinking it himself. This was considered an occupational perk. I confiscated enough beer that summer to open a saloon. In fact, between Ed and me our rental house had begun to look like a state liquor store. An entire wall held row upon row of empty cans, stacked floor to ceiling, more than five hundred of them by mid-July.
I remember the back bumper of our police car scraping busily across the asphalt as we drove into the city parking lot carrying more beer in the trunk than the Budweiser salesman. I used to think that the rear springs wouldn’t handle much more of this abuse.
At the end of May, Ed and I had joined some friends— Rufus Bing and “Pledge” Knowles— in renting the second floor of a wood-frame house in an alley off 2nd Street, a half block from the beach. Six college girls working in O.C. for the summer lived on the first floor.
The house, whose owner lived in Virginia, was so crowded and so busy with constant partying and heavy drinking that beds on both floors were at a premium. Although we had a shift-schedule for their use, I would often have to grab some sleep in the police barracks, where I kept a bunk and a locker.
I had a friend from Sweet Briar College named Amy who ran a crab-cake stand. A fried crab-cake the size of a hamburger patty, on a bun with lettuce and tomato, was 50 cents. A soft drink was a dime. Amy fed me free every afternoon. Amy was short, naïve, and cute.
She was from Hagerstown, Maryland, and chattered a lot about her horse, who had the Freudian handle of “Dagger,” and who she seemed to miss greatly. One day Amy told me about a problem she’d had the night before. The problem’s name was “Wes.” Amy had been on her way home from a beach party. It was about midnight She’d had too many drinks and was wobbling along in the sand.
A man sitting under the edge of the boardwalk spoke to her. He was friendly and nice looking. He was drinking a beer and offered her one. She took the beer, chatted with him for a while, and he kissed her. She kissed him back. Wham, she said, he pinned her to the cold sand. “I felt like I’d been trapped by an octopus,” she said. Even when she yelled he wouldn’t let go. Two old men walking above on the boardwalk stopped and yelled through the boards. Amy pulled loose and ran out onto the sand and up the steps. “Wes” had pulled her bra down under her shirt, and it was hanging around her waist. The men offered to call the police. One of them yelled at Wes who was walking up the beach. Wes turned under the streetlight, stopped and gave them the finger. The tourists walked Amy back to her boarding house.
The fellow’s name was Wesley Moser. He was a printer from Baltimore. He lived in the old Plimhimmon Hotel on 2nd Street for a month every summer and spent his time seducing teenage girls. He was a pillhead, and he was older than he looked. I met him one night as I was leaving a girl’s room at the Plimhimmon —a girl from Blue Belle, Pennsylvania, who had invited me over. I was on duty, it was late, and I wanted to get back to my post in case the lieutenant came by checking on me. I stopped to use a hall bathroom. I opened the bathroom door and found a girl, about 16 or 17, sitting on the edge of the bathtub. She was wearing underpants and a bra. I thought she was drunk but her eyes were too unfocused and weird. She looked like other people I’d seen who had taken pills and washed them down with booze. She and I talked for a few minutes. She repeatedly said she was fine, even when I didn’t ask her, but she was seriously loaded. The door opened and a muscular guy in his early forties stepped through with eyes as weird as hers. He took her by the arm and led her down the hall. He was in pants, no shirt, and bare feet. He sported heart and dagger-style tattoos on his arms, and had something large and more complicated tattooed on his chest, which later turned out to be a bulldog. He gave me a hard look on his way out. I watched him take her back to a room.
Maybe she’s 18, I thought. Maybe she’s his girlfriend, even his wife. She certainly didn’t seem afraid of him. The possibility of embarrassment kept me from knocking on his door. It was early in the summer and I hadn’t yet acquired sufficient experiential aggression.
I stopped by the front desk and learned the fellow’s name was Moser. I realized then he was probably the guy who grabbed Amy two weeks before. Wes was staying alone, and other than having an eye for the ladies, said the clerk, he was no trouble, a valued customer. I wrote Moser’s name and home address in my notebook.
I talked to the beach boy R-Bob, at his boardwalk and 4th Street stand the next day. I asked him if he had ever heard of Moser. He had not but he had rented mats to some Silver Spring, Maryland girls a few weeks before. One of them said a man had tried to rape her after she went with him on the beach at night. She told R-Bob the man was muscular and tattooed. R-Bob thought the girls had gone home. They had been celebrating high school graduation. He didn’t know their names.
I called Cassie Mackin. Cassie was a reporter for the Hearst paper in Baltimore, covering “Shore Society” for the summer. She liked crime stories and hated her job. She checked the paper’s morgue back in Baltimore, but they had nothing on Moser. I called the state police barracks. They said Moser had an arrest for burglary in the fifties but no convictions they could find. He was 41 years old.
Wesley Moser wasn’t the only pillhead I met that summer. Marijuana and cocaine had yet to catch on with white kids, at least on the Eastern Shore. Pills, mostly amphetamines, but also downers like Seconal and Nembutal, were becoming common.
I was on the 3 to 11 p.m. shift when Chief Phillips told me to get out of my uniform and into plainclothes. I put on sneakers, shorts and a shirt. He drove me to an address on Shad Row, an unoccupied but furnished single story, wood-shingled house with a For Rent sign in front. The owner met us there. He was a city councilman.
In a bedroom, a sleeping bag and a tangle of clothes were rolled in a corner. A flight bag in a closet had more clothes and a paper bag with two or three hundred Dexedrine capsules. The guy had probably come through an unlocked window. They were all unlocked so we didn’t know which one. The chief told me to hide and catch him. I planned to wait inside but the owner didn’t want me to. He seemed afraid that if a fight occurred it might damage the furniture.
I was having trouble finding a vantage point outside to watch from. After an hour of walking around feeling conspicuous, and fearful the fellow would get in through the back when I was watching the front, I had a police epiphany. It was dark. I climbed up on the roof. Crouching there I could see all sides of the house. About 9 o’clock, I watched a man slide over the fence and drop into the backyard. I was lying on the roof right over his head when he crept up, opened a window, and began to climb through. I shouted at him loudly, probably something dramatic like “Halt,” a phrase I’d been hoping to use yet had the occasion. I was five feet above the crown of the fellow’s head. He literally fell out of the window, landing on his back. I leaped to my feet and pulled my horse pistol from the waistband of my shorts. I don’t think he’d known where I was but he did now. He was looking right at me. Rolled out flat, I could see he was tall and skinny. He jumped up and started running for the fence. I leaped from the roof and landed much harder than I expected. I crashed onto my knees and elbows. My gun went off next to my ear. It was so close to my face I had a burn on my right ear. I thought I’d shot myself. The other fellow thought I’d shot him. He had fallen on the ground by the fence. He was trembling so badly I could hardly get the handcuffs on him.
One morning about 2 a.m., I walked a prisoner into the jail. When I unlocked the crowded cell, a fellow in the shadows came to the bars. It was Pledge Knowles, one of my housemates.
As a result of various screw-ups, Pledge had spent three years in a college fraternity without ever being initiated. He was a great guy but always seemed on the losing end of activities. In this case, Pledge had been arrested and was being held on bond for crashing through a plate glass window at a boardwalk bar and dance spot called the Beach Club.
Pledge had been doing the twist, leaned back on one foot, and fell backwards through the window. People who saw it told me they thought he’d been decapitated. Rufus Bing, another housemate and a bouncer there, said he thought Pledge was dead. He was lying on his back, inert in a large pool of glass shards. Actually, Pledge was fine. He was exceedingly drunk and had knocked himself out when his head hit the window.
Pledge was a dinner waiter at Josie and Maria’s at 17th and Philadelphia. This four-hour-a-day job supplied him daily contact with waitresses his age, excellent tips, one free meal every afternoon, and all the uneaten steak, sourdough rolls, asparagus spears, crab cakes, blobs of flan, and other barely nibbled upon food he could grab off plates being bussed into the kitchen, wolfing it down on the spot, or dropping it into a doggie bag for later.
Pledge’s personal habits left much to be desired but he was a generous fellow and brought home many a heavy doggie bag to share with his doggy housemates.
I let Pledge out of the cell. I got him some coffee and sent him to the police barracks to take a shower. When he came back, wearing a pair of clean shorts he’d taken from my locker, we sat in the lieutenant’s empty office and he told me a story.
Pledge said that Bonnie Winters, a friend of ours who lived on the floor below us, had been propositioned by a guy. He had been very offensive to her.
Pledge was in love with Bonnie, a senior at Goucher College in Baltimore, and a waitress at the English Diner. Pledge was very upset. His relationship with Bonnie was platonic, his love unrequited. Pledge had a way of making me feel I was competing with him for empathetic intensity.
Pledge had run into Bonnie at the Beach Club before he ran into the window. He said the man had exposed himself to Bonnie.
Pledge wanted me to let him go home but I couldn’t. I locked him back up and walked over to our house.
Bonnie was asleep in the bed she shared with another waitress, a lissome junior at the University of Maryland. I sat on the bed and woke them up.
Bonnie said before she went back to work that afternoon, she was at another girl’s apartment, a block from our house. Her friend suddenly jumped up. There was a naked man in the window of the hotel next door, she said. Bonnie got up and looked. It was about 12 feet across the alley. The man was standing in a window a floor above. He was staring at the girls. He grinned, waved and pointed to his genitals. Bonnie said the man disappeared from the window when another person pulled him away. She said it looked like a woman.
Two hours later she had been waiting on tables at the English Diner. A man at a table greeted her when she served him. He looked familiar, she thought it might be the man from the window, but she wasn’t certain. She was rattled. She took his order, served his food, and tried to avoid looking at him. As she put his bill down, he grabbed her fingers. He handed her a $3 tip and said, “We saw each other today. I like you. Why don’t you have a drink with me?” Bonnie walked away and locked herself in the ladies room. When she came out he was gone.
Would you know this guy if you saw him again, I asked her. For sure, she said. He was in his early forties, very fit looking, dark hair. He had tattoos on his arms and when he was in the window, a big tattoo on his chest.
Aaah, and he’s staying at the Plimhimmon Hotel, I said. How did you know that? she said.
That night Ed got off duty at 11 while I went on. I holstered our gun, we left city hall together, and walked down to the Plimhimmon, a 340-room wooden hotel built around 1880. Moser wasn’t there. The clerk said he had to go back to Baltimore for some reason. He would be back in a week.
On Friday night a boy came running up to me on the boardwalk. He said that a man was beating a woman in front of the Sea Scape Motel. “Follow me,” he said.
He started sprinting and I ran after him for five long blocks. I could see a crowd forming in the distance as we approached. People were in a half circle surrounding a man and woman. At first it looked like the couple was dancing. She was wearing a dress, he had on a sports jacket. They were well dressed and in their forties. The woman, who had long red hair and was attractive, was holding the man’s shirt with her left hand and doggedly hitting him in the face with her right. She was also kicking him. The man was trying desperately to pull free. She was hitting him pretty hard. In return, he clouted her on the side of the head with his fist. She still held on.
As I was running towards them I felt my gun and holster fly right off my hip. The screw that secured it to my belt had snapped. The big chrome revolver skidded across the boardwalk toward the dancing couple. It hit their feet and bounced into a forest of legs. I desperately crashed through the crowd, retrieving it from against a wall. I handed the gun and holster to a man I recognized as the manager of the hotel and asked him to hold it. The couple was still dancing. I moved to separate them, or tried to. He had her in some kind of wrestling hold, facing her with his arms around her waist and her head bent almost double against his chest. I thought she couldn’t breathe, although she was successfully kicking him in the shins. I tried to pry his arms loose. When he wouldn’t let go I punched him in the face, drawing a little blood from his nose. The woman shook free, and watched the man reeling backwards, holding his bleeding nose. She screamed and knocked my feet out from under me.
The three of us ended up rolling around on the wooden boardwalk in a pinwheel of flailing arms and legs, collecting splinters and cuts from loose nails. The woman was remarkably strong and wouldn’t stop kicking. I was able to seize her wrist bone with the Claw. I twisted it. It worked. She deflated like a balloon. The man immediately wimped out.
Another cop, Dick Schwartz, came running up. We handcuffed the two of them to a chain that secured an “AmVets” gumball machine to a bench on the boardwalk. I made them lie on their bellies while we waited for a police car.
This was my beat at the time. I’d sat on the same bench many times just before listening to the ocean and fantasizing about how many gumballs I could blow out on the sand with one bullet.
A tourist came over and handed me my badge. There was a rip in my shirt where it had been pulled off. My watch crystal was broken, my trouser knees were ripped out, I had splinters in my butt, and I was having trouble getting my breath, more from panic than exertion.
The pair was married and lived in leafy Owings Mills, Maryland. The man was a realtor from Baltimore. His wife told me that. He wouldn’t talk to me other than to say “eff off” repeatedly. The woman was unclear about what caused the fight. She couldn’t remember. She said, “I think it had something to do with food.”
It was my prerogative to set their bail. I set it high. I charged them with disorderly conduct and assault on a police officer, a felony. I locked them up overnight. The cell, which they shared with two other people, was 5 feet wide, 6 feet long and 7 feet high. Not too comfortable. In the morning, court was held on the second floor of city hall, over the police department, Judge James B. Robins presiding.
The judge would get all narrow-eyed on the bench if he didn’t like the defendants, as if he were a judge at Nuremberg and had just learned what the Third Reich had really been up to. It was widely believed that Judge Robins would impose the death penalty for public urination if he could.
I went to his chambers before court. I brought my ripped shirt and broken watch with me. The judge looked, and then listened politely to my story. He was grandfatherly in appearance with a thatch of white hair and a pink face. He was his usual taciturn but sympathetic self.
The man and woman were brought into court with six or seven other prisoners. They looked like two people who’d spent the night riding a Trailways bus. They had a bad case of bed-head and his nose was swollen.
This couple, I thought, is in for a rough ride.
When the judge called their case a man in his fifties stood up. He said he represented the arrested couple. A defense lawyer at the magistrate’s court wasn’t that common.
I was sitting with my shirt rolled in a ball on my knee. I was feeling vengeful. The judge was talking. I thought I heard a key word, “…dismissed.” The man and woman joined their lawyer and began heading out of court.
I couldn’t believe the judge wasn’t going to send them to the state pen, or at least have them clearing brush alongside the road to Girdletree with the other convicts.
A lifetime of judicial fascism and Judge Robins picks this very moment to become a liberal?
The husband smirked as he passed. I asked Captain Hudson, who was sitting next to me, what he thought happened. “You got porked, boy,” he said.
Ollie Hudson had more than a passing acquaintanceship with porking, as he had been chief until the mayor demoted him and hired Jack Phillips. He looked sympathetic, as if we were brothers in our humiliation.
I stood up and asked the judge if l could say something. He said no. He was obviously leaving. He told me to sit back down. I tried to say something. He told me to be quiet. His face looked as red as mine felt. I took off my badge and held it out. I quit, I said. I dropped the badge on the floor with my ruined shirt and walked out. The judge yelled at me.
Lt. Allen and Edsel caught up with me at City Lunch where I’d gone to cool off. The man I’d arrested was a prominent fellow, an appointed state commissioner, the lieutenant said. His wife is a member of the Junior League or the Garden Club or something like that. They are friendly with Governor Tawes. So the judge went in the tank, he said. So what? He didn’t take a bribe. The lieutenant said I should grow up.
Cassie Mackin from the Baltimore News-Post and Ed, who was in uniform, came over to our table. They’d heard about the dust-up. Cassie and I were close friends.
Cassie listened to Lt. Allen. She agreed with him. This was not such a big deal. Could there be a more interesting summer job, she said? Would I rather be a waiter? I should apologize to Judge Robins. Is a little crawling that hard to do?
Ed leaped in at me. “Lt. Allen is right,” he said. “Sometimes, Carlson, you are such a phony. Such a Mr. Self-Righteous.”
Ed stayed for free hamburgers from his girlfriend, a waitress named Technicolor, and I went back with Cassie and the lieutenant to see Chief Phillips. Ed grabbed me when the lieutenant went out the door. Where’s our gun, he said, you didn’t give it to me. Ed and I had devised a kind of Potemkin Pistol–a blackened knob of wood vaguely resembling a gun butt, for use if we missed each other at shift change. Ed had it jammed in his holster like a painted potato. I’ll get it, I’ll get it, I said, sounding like Jack Benny.
The chief had already heard about the clash. He was annoyed. The judge had told him I had thrown my badge and was “a goddamned grandstander.” There was some truth to the charge so it stung. I almost went back to quitting. The chief said he didn’t want me to. I was flattered and so I shut up.
Lt. Allen offered to go talk to the judge. He asked me to hold Edsel, who whined and danced and looked at me like I was steak tartare. The lieutenant came back with my badge. I threw your shirt away, he said. The judge will accept an apology. Okay, I said, I’ll give it to him. And I did.
Cassie was a couple of years older than me, a thin, pretty blonde with freckles and a Catholic girl’s school upbringing. She’d spent the previous year, after college, as a police reporter covering murders, shootings, rapes, arson, and general mayhem in Baltimore. She missed it.
She came back with me to the Sea Scape to get my six-shooter from the manager. The night before, I’d been so adrenalized by my scuffle with the Owing Mills couple that I forgot my gun. And I had been greatly distracted by something else. After I’d unhitched the man from the gumball machine, he’d become more belligerent, and I had a difficult time loading him and his wife into the back of the police car that had come to haul them to jail.
Since I was going to ride in the front, and because there was no protective screen between front and back, I handcuffed each of them by one hand to the seat belt loops on the floor in front of them. This was not a happy experience, particularly for the man, and it took a little physical wrangling.
Mr. “Eff Off” had to sit doubled over with his wrist near the floor. This is a lot harder when your stomach is in the way, as was his. In thinking about it I can see why he didn’t much care for me.
It was our rented house, inhabited by six women and five men, and sometimes as many as 100 of their friends, that was at the root of Ed’s demise. A regular stream of complaints about the house had been flowing into the police department. Neighbors, and the owner of a hotel whose back rooms looked down on our balcony, were always calling the cops about the noise and occasional all-night parties. Thursday nights, when Ed and I were off duty, were always the most egregious and the most damaging to the house’s public image.
These were the nights Pledge would stage his regular indoor crab races. The crabs, backs painted with risque names, would amble down a long, makeshift track with fifty or sixty cheering spectators crammed into the living room and balcony. They would be screaming crude non-sequiturs like “Come on Vulva” and “Go Scrotum.” Betting and drinking games would revolve around each race and considerable tumult would be generated. This activity instigated the most irritated complaints. A couple of cop friends, who knew we lived in the house, usually headed off trouble by answering the calls themselves and then staying for a beer. Also helpful, at least for the first month, were Ed and I going in and out in uniform. Neighbors thought we were in there “laying down the law,” and responding to their calls. The thought had not yet occurred that we lived there, although at some point it finally did.
One day as I drove with Lt. Allen, Edsel’s breath warm and damp on the back of my neck, the lieutenant said something like, “Carlson, you know that old house in the alley off 2nd? The mayor told me a city policeman might be living there.” “Really?” I said, and changed the subject. Neither the lieutenant nor the chief had a clue. Both Ed and I had bunks in the police barracks, so they assumed we lived there.
The complainants were getting more annoyed and more persistent. Although we asked him not to, Pledge invariably compounded their ire by winging dead crabs off the balcony. He and his friends would bet on this, the object being to pitch your crab into one of the hotel’s ground floor light wells. Many crabs made their mark. Decaying crabs have a particularly vile, repellent odor.
I was bike-riding one morning with a girl from a college in Virginia named (with some irony, I thought) Southern Seminary, when the crabs hit the fan.
It was about 11 a.m. and Lt. Allen had decided to raid our house. Some of the more exaggerated complaints had been piling up on the mayor’s desk. The mayor called our landlord in Virginia Beach and asked him to give the renters the boot.
The lieutenant, Edsel, and another cop, maybe Tiny McGee, or Sgt. Nat Mapp, climbed the back stairs to the top floor carrying an eviction notice signed by Judge Robins. It was directed at John Knowles, a.k.a. Pledge.
Two or three people were sleeping in the living room amidst a very large rubble heap of beer cans. Someone, Pledge probably, had knocked down our beer can display and we hadn’t yet gotten around to rebuilding it. A pile of odoriferous dead crabs had been piled on the balcony for that night’s pitching competition and the doors were open. The huge pile of trash, with a sleeping man and two women at its perimeter, admittedly gave a strong, albeit false, impression of great degeneracy. Lt. Allen was disgusted.
With Edsel backing him up with threatening sounds, and after checking ID’s, he ordered everybody out. The lieutenant found Pledge and Rufus sleeping in a bedroom. He threatened to arrest Pledge unless he signed the notice and they were packed and gone in three hours.
Ed was zonked out in the other bedroom. He wasn’t scheduled for work until three. A girl named Candyce, who ran the “Paratroop” ride at Trimper’s amusement park, was sleeping with him. Both had been up all night. The lieutenant and Edsel walked over to the bed.
Edsel growled and put his nose near Ed’s face just as Lt. Allen gave Ed’s exposed shoulder a solid shove with his foot. Ed rose from the bed so fast even Edsel was intimidated; at least for the moment before he suck his large teeth into Ed’s naked groin. Edsel let go just as quickly when one of Ed’s flailing fists caught him like a jack-hammer on the top of his head. Lt. Allen pulled his gun and said he would shoot Ed. Ed sat down on the bed. The lieutenant told me that was when he recognized him. “I never liked that boy Ed much anyway, though I know he was friend of yours,” he said that night.
Edsel, whimpering, his eyes rolling like dice in a cage, sat down quietly on the floor next to Ed. Candyce suddenly tuned in, sat up, looked at the tableau, and became hysterical. Edsel ignored her, as did Ed and Lt. Allen.
The lieutenant drove Ed and Edsel for treatment. First, he took Edsel to the vet and made Ed come in with him. Edsel had a concussion. The vet pronounced recovery with bed rest and some light duty. The lieutenant then drove Ed to the doctor where he was treated for puncture wounds of the thigh. (“The doctor said Edsel missed canceling a future line of Crawfords by millimeters,” claimed Ed.)
On the way back into town Lt. Allen fired Ed. But he offered a deal. He wouldn’t tell the story unless Ed did. And Ed could say he resigned. Ed agreed.
We had a little farewell at the Beach Club. R-Bob played his homemade ukulele in a credible imitation of Arthur Godfrey. Bonnie sang “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore,” and Pledge sang “Scotch & Soda.” These were Ed’s two favorite songs, though his sentimental inclinations had been pretty well hidden until then. Candyce, who had considerable wit, got up and read a poem she’d written about Edsel and Ed and Lt. Ira Allen, the story having gained considerable currency on the summer grapevine.
I had left the party to change into my uniform and go on duty. At 2 a.m. I came back as the bar closed and our friends poured onto the dark street. Ed joined me. We ambled on down to the Plimhimmon Hotel.
I got a key to Moser’s room from the night clerk. We didn’t bother to knock. I turned the lights on in the small room, which had a sink, but no shower or toilet. Two people were sleeping in the bed, covers to their waist. One was Moser, snoring deeply, the other was a young, very plump girl with long brown hair. I went to the window. I could see Bonnie’s friend’s window across the alley.
We woke the girl up and talked to her while Moser slept on. She was very disoriented. She climbed naked out of bed. She showed us an ID. She was 19, visiting from Timonium, Maryland, working in a beauty parlor there. We were disappointed she wasn’t a juvenile. We were keen to arrest Moser for statutory rape. The girl said she met Moser at the amusement park at the end of town. She wouldn’t admit being the one who pulled him away from the window when Bonnie was watching. She also wouldn’t admit taking any pills, nor say whether Moser had any. We made her dress and leave.
I woke Moser up by opening a beer bottle and pouring it over his head. He sat up in bed. He was confused, but not completely. He demanded to know what we were doing in his room. Get out, he ordered. Beer was running through his hair. He was fast becoming upset.
Ed was going through his bureau drawers looking for pills or whatever he might find. It was a delicious violation of his civil liberties, even in 1962. Ed had taken the entire contents of his top drawer and dumped them on the floor.
Moser was a big guy. The tattoo on his chest was of a bulldog with a ribbon around his neck and a flag behind him. The ribbon had writing on it, probably death before dishonor. I didn’t take time to stare. Moser climbed out of bed with his fists balled. He was having difficulty focusing his eyes, but his face was very red and I knew he was going to swing at me.
I grabbed Moser’s tattooed forearm about half way to his elbow with the Claw, the pincers barely made it around, but it was enough. I twisted hard and he fell to the floor with a sob. Now Ed was really tossing the room. He kept holding up various discoveries, laughing and doing a commentary on Moser’s bikini underwear, his porno-picture collection with himself featured in some of the shots, and his assemblage of imaginative sex devices. Ed found everything but pep pills or narcotics. If they were there he’d hidden them well.
Ed pulled Moser’s clunky Samsonite suitcase down from a closet. He began throwing clothes from the closet and bureau into it. He dumped all of Moser’s toiletries in, taking the time to empty bottles of mouthwash, shampoo, aftershave lotion, and a full bottle of Vaseline Hair Tonic into the jumble of clothes. Ed ripped the top off a can of baby talcum and dumped in the powder. He squeezed out all of Moser’s toothpaste, sprayed a can of shaving cream into the mess, poured in two half-empty beer bottles, and walked around emptying ashtrays and then the wastebasket too. Ed was humming a song called “Alley Oop” and looked immensely satisfied. He beamed at Moser, who was sitting on his knees, the veins on his neck pushing against his skin like little fire hoses. Moser’s arm was looking awfully white below the Claw. I released the pressure and made him get up. Moser couldn’t move his left arm. He didn’t need it anyway. We made him dress and carry his leaking suitcase with his good arm, all the way down three flights of fire escape stairs to his car, a new DeSoto. Moser was not totally subdued. He made a couple of vengeful promises. Before he could work himself into a more troublesome snit, I grabbed the wrist of his bad arm with the Claw and brought him down in the dirt.
Ed crouched and got in Moser’s face. He squeezed Moser’s nose between thumb and forefinger and twisted it half way around his face. He said if he caught him in Ocean City again he would shoot him. Of course, shooting would have to be done without Ed as he was leaving town, and gunless to boot. He did sound quite convincing, however. We watched Wesley Moser drive towards the bridge and back to Baltimore, just like in a movie.
The next day Ed went home to New Hampshire. On a postcard from Lake Winnipesaukee he said he’d gotten a job running a snow-cone stand.
Lt. Allen never knew I lived in the house he raided.
Near the end of the summer, Cassie asked me if I wanted to go to a good party. Vice President Lyndon Johnson would be there, she said. Cassie would be covering it for her paper and had press ducats for two. I am already planning to go, I said. I just haven’t been invited, and I’ll be stuck on the periphery. Bring a bathing suit, she said.
The party was on Saturday afternoon for the opening of the Carousel Motel on the beach a couple miles north of downtown.
Lt. Allen had asked me to be part of the town’s idea of an honor guard and stand by the entrance to the Carousel when the Vice President and dignitaries arrived.
The chief had briefed us that morning. His orders were devoid of nuance. “There are going to be a lot of hookers there. I don’t mean politicians, I mean prostitutes. Leave them alone. I don’t want you to arrest anybody unless you see them commit murder. Ignore everything else.”
Two dozen Ocean City Chamber of Commerce members had gathered with the mayor and council and a scraggly bunch of reporters near the motel entrance to await the motorcade from Washington.
I was amazed by the pomp. This wasn’t the Carlyle Hotel. It wasn’t even the Hilton. It was a four-story motel and it was kind of garish. Cassie came over. What is this all about, I asked?
She pointed to a dark-haired fellow. He was chain-smoking by the sandy road and talking to the Ocean City mayor. That’s Bobby Baker, she said. He owns this place. He’s like LBJ’s adopted son. He’s 31 years old, makes less than $400 a week as secretary to the Senate Democrats, has gotten rich, and is one of the most powerful guys in Washington. The public has never heard of him, she said. I’d never heard of him either, I said. I’ve never even heard of his job.
LBJ and Mrs. Johnson drove up in a limousine. Mrs. Johnson was wearing a bright orange dress. They were followed by a long string of limousines and seven chartered buses, one of them with a band, all of them with a bar aboard. At least one of the buses, perhaps as a result of Baker’s enormous clout, I now realize, was a D.C. Public Transit bus.
The vehicles were crammed with senators, congressmen, lobbyists, Hill staffers, and a remarkable number of women whose youth and good looks distinguished them from the rest of the disembarking crowd. Two hundred fifty or more people passed me after greeting Bobby Baker and the locals. Many of them had been partying all the way from Washington, a four-hour drive. Some were carrying champagne bottles. I tried to figure out who the hookers were. I didn’t have a clue. I couldn’t separate them.
There was little concern for physical security in those days. The Johnsons wandered out about an hour later and drove away. The sergeant said we cops could head back to town or go in to eat. No Hobson’s Choice, that. The caterer, from a Capitol Hill bistro by the name of “The Place Where Louie Dwells” had invited us in for snacks in a room next to the kitchen.
I went and got my gym bag from the car. I went into a men’s room, changed to a shirt and bathing suit, and headed out by the pool.
I found Cassie at an enormous buffet table, a literal groaning board. For a skinny girl she had a lusty appetite. Wherever Louie was Dwelling was tops.
The Carousel’s interior was done in various shades of lavender. The color was everywhere, like some purplish, organic growth.
Happy, heavy-drinking guests were splashing in the heated pool, and playing touch football on the beach. A number of politicians, many of whom are dorks at their core, were done up for the occasion, sporting matched sets of shorts and shirts in bright floral colors, as well as black ankle socks and black shoes as counterpoint to their white legs. Senator Cannon of Nevada and Senator Smathers of Florida were two of them.
Cassie and I brought our drinks to the beach to watch a badminton game. A congressman named “Fats” Everett of Tennessee was playing against Senator Gale McGee of Wyoming. Mr. Everett was so bombed he fell down after every swing. Then he would get back up again and wobble into a ready position. I was transfixed by this indefatigable fellow when Cassie pointed down the beach and said, look at this.
It was a rowboat coming through the surf towards the beach. I saw a flash of bright yellow in the spray and recognized the oars. It was Rowing Bob. Cassie and I helped R-Bob pull his old boat up on the sand. He’d rowed all the way from 4th Street, a long haul. He said he was there to crash the party, get some dinner, and meet girls.
On Friday of Labor Day weekend with posters announcing the “3rd Annual Riot” tacked all over town, a crowd of beer-guzzling teenagers gathered at 9th Street and Boardwalk. Around 10 p.m. their numbers had swollen to five or six hundred. I was on foot patrol and wandered through the crowd. Kids were dancing to a portable radio. There was a lot of drinking out of paper bags. People were friendly.
I was leaning against a storefront talking to three girls from McLean High School when there was a loud bang from the tight middle of the crowd. It sounded like a 20-gauge shotgun, though it turned out to be a powerful firecracker, like a depth charge.
People began rushing in different directions and a number of kids were knocked down. Two boys picked up a wire trashcan and threw it at a store window about twenty feet away. The can cracked the glass and bounced back. Reports of a gunshot were bringing police reinforcements. Some bottles bounced off the front of a store and a lucky toss brought down the globe on a streetlight.
Chief Phillips walked onto the boardwalk with a bullhorn and declared an emergency curfew.
Lt. Allen with Edsel straining on a lead, antediluvian teeth flashing and throwing off spit, moved into the crowd, scattering panicky kids down the boardwalk. A teenage boy about a dozen feet to the side of me, and wearing cutoff Levi’s and a great deal of acne, threw a full Coke can at the lieutenant. It landed short by a foot, bounced and spewed into the air. The boy was strapping but punky, like a freshman football player. He saw me coming at him and turned to run. I caught him on the chest by a handful of tank top. He was strong. I couldn’t seem to snap a handcuff on him. Suddenly, his head snaked forward and he bit me on the shoulder, right through my shirt. I dropped the cuff and hit him on the head hard with my ash nightstick, the only person to be so struck by me the entire summer. This drew quite a bit of blood, frightening him, and enabling me to get him cuffed. The boy, a high school student from Falls Church, Virginia, was locked up overnight with forty-seven other people, mostly teenagers.
Cassie was packing boxes in her apartment when I stopped by. She asked me what I was going to do. I said I didn’t know. The chief had asked me to stay on through the winter. I could rent a small house for almost nothing, shoot ducks in the fall, and try and write a book. I liked the idea of driving a police car alone down the long, wooden boardwalk. The sound of wheels thumping over wet boards appealed.
Cassie looked at me. You can’t stay here, she said. That’s silly. The summer is over. Go to a city, get a job on a paper, become a reporter.
They’ll pay you to have an interesting day every day. I turned down the chief’s offer, but agreed to stay on for another week. I worked the overnight. It was getting colder and I wore my trench coat over my uniform.
One night, I took off my hat and tucked it in the small of my back under my coat. The boardwalk was deserted and heavy with ocean mist. I walked to the Sea Scape Motel. On the edge of the boardwalk, across from the motel, was a green wooden bench. Chained to it was the AmVets’ gumball machine, perched on an iron stand. I walked over and sat down. I listened to the ocean at my back. I stared at the gumball machine. The globe was three-quarters full, mostly with balls of black, red, and green.
I stood up and walked a few feet, maybe five, and drew my revolver. I turned, aimed at the glass, and fired. I missed. The explosion from the horse-pistol in the stillness was a remarkable thing. They heard that in Rehoboth Beach, I thought. I moved closer. I put the barrel four inches from the glass and fired again. Pay dirt, as they say. Hundreds of gumballs, many of them powdered or in pieces, flew into the air and out over the sand. I felt good.
Lights began to flick on in the motel. I walked down the side street away from the boardwalk. A woman in a bathrobe leaned down from a window. “What happened?” she asked. “A good question, Madam,” I said. “I don’t know.”
I walked through the alley. I could hear a siren coming up Baltimore Avenue towards the Sea Scape.
The next day I said good-bye to Chief Phillips, to my friend Lt. Allen, patted Edsel on his broad head, and got a ride out of Ocean City with a local waterman.
Postscript: Dick Carlson, with Catherine Mackin’s help, was hired as a copy boy at the Los Angeles Times a few months after he left Ocean City. The next summer, age 22, he became a general assignment reporter for UPI in San Francisco. He was a writer and television correspondent for many years. He remained close friends with Cassie, who was White House correspondent for ABC-TV when she died of cancer in the fall of 1982.
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