Let me tell you a story.
You will recall that back in my first few months in Philadelphia, I landed a fantastic job at a Used CD/DVD store right downtown. If you haven’t read my account of crackheads, bums and Bob the Builder, you really should. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
When you have a central figure as dynamic as my unshowered, overweight, prostitute-frequenting, drug-addicted boss who didn’t pay his employees, well, sometimes other characters get glossed over, or left out altogether. For instance, there was the homeless couple I mentioned briefly who disappeared unexpectedly one day, after about a week of acting jittery. Or, another example, I remember one night when a nervous-looking deaf man was attempting to converse with me and my high school level sign language, at the same time as a flamboyantly gay teenager overtly ogled me (and my ass) every time I stood (he would ask me where certain CDs were just so he could leer at me as I walked from section to section).
Additionally, I left out the night I was waiting for the bus home at midnight and ended up in a congenial conversation with a sweet, hefty black woman who turned out to be a phone sex operator (she didn’t like leaving the job at night because sometimes customers found out where their operation was based and would wait outside for particular operators).
Hell, even some of my co-workers were quirky in their own right.
But one particular fellow deserves his own entry: John the Cop. Now, this is usually the part where I say, “Let’s call him…” and give a fake name. But I never knew this guy’s full name. I only knew him as John the Cop, and I like the ring of that title, so I’m sticking with it.
John the Cop, like all good cops, was a chubby bastard (there seems to be a theme of fat-ness running through my Philly stories; unsurprising for a city that routinely puts squeeze cheese on their cheese-steak sandwiches). This was a man who, in an action movie, would be the fairly dimwitted fat cop who loses the perp in a foot chase and then gets chewed out by the hero of the film, only to be revealed in the climax as a crony for the main villain. That is to say, when he entered the store, I was not filled with an overwhelming sense of personal security.
The first night I met the protagonist of this particular entry, he was in full uniform. This was not unusual, as my store was in a somewhat seedy part of downtown and cops routinely strolled in and out of the store. If you know me, you know that cops make me a bit uneasy. I’ve never had a serious run-in with the law, but my few experiences dealing with individual cops have been mostly unpleasant. Other than maybe one exception, every cop I’ve dealt with has been particularly douche-y.
Cue: John the Cop.
He came up to the counter with a fat stack of DVD boxsets (think seasons of The Sopranos, The Simpsons, etc.) and CDs. The way my store worked, all the actual discs were in the back organized by numbers, so I would take the cases and have to search through old, flimsy, 30-count cardboard boxes for the right discs. With one title, this could take a minute. With a stack of 15 or 20 different titles, this could be quite the ordeal. But okay, that’s cool, the store is about to make a lot of money, so I’m happy to do it (this was back in my first few weeks when I still wanted the store to succeed).
After maybe 12 to 15 minutes, I’ve found all the discs and I set the stack back on the counter in front of John the Cop. With a pen and paper, I start to make out a receipt in order to give the cop his total.
“Oh, no.” John the Cop says (at this point, I don’t know his name). “I don’t pay for these. I have a deal arranged with Greg.” Greg isn’t the guy’s real name. The cop meant another employee at the store who worked mostly days and had been with the store longer than anyone (other than the crackhead boss and his crackhead baby’s mama). So, yeah, let’s call him ‘Greg’.
“Greg lets me borrow this stuff and I make copies of all of them. Then I bring them back in the morning.” Already, you’re getting the sense of what kind of person this John the Cop is, aren’t you?
Now, my incredulity must have shown on my face, because John says, “You can call Greg if you want.” I didn’t know Greg’s number, but I might have been able to scrounge around and find it. Of course, the thought of me saying to the cop, “Yeah, one second, I’ve got to verify your story” and then turning the store upside down searching for the phone number seemed a bit, shall we say, stupid. I was new in the city and not too keen on having a cop being on my bad side. On the other hand, what the cop was doing was legally (and morally) suspect and not good for business. It was a real ethical quandary.
So, I summoned up my moral courage and I said, “Nah, it’s cool. Go ahead and take them.” John the Cop smiled his big, smarmy-cop smile and did just that. Greg worked the next morning, so I figured John the Cop would just return the stuff to Greg the next day and the boss would never know, everything would be square.
Over the next few weeks, John the Cop would show up from time to time, gather up a buttload of CDs and DVDs and I would let him walk out with $300 to $400 worth of a merchandise. John the Cop even gave me his personal phone number and said, “Give me a call if you need anything.” This seemed like a pretty good trade off. John the Cop got all the burned media he wanted, and I had a cop in my pocket if I needed something (I wasn’t thinking like bribery; I was more concerned with possibly getting a public intoxication ticket that I would need expunged). I didn’t particularly look forward to John the Cop’s visits, but at least I understood the routine.
He would even call me up sometimes and say he was on his way. Once, he asked me if I wanted him to bring me a drink.
“Oh, sure, whatever you want to bring,”
“What kind of beer do you like?” Um.
“Um, whatever is fine.” If you’re wondering about the ethical questions of drinking on the job… fob off. It was just a beer, I wasn’t going to get drunk and even if I got plastered, I think I could manage to sit on my ass in an empty store. My main hesitation was simply that a cop was offering to bring me a beer (he didn’t even know my age, though I was over 21). This guy wasn’t lining up for any Medals of Merit.
Naturally, he brought me PBR. I think I’ve made it clear my feelings towards Pabst. I didn’t end up drinking the beer and it ended up in my fridge back home for the rest of my year in Philly. But still, it’s the thought that counts, or something.
Now, Greg and I didn’t regularly cross paths. We were both essentially managers and so we had opposite schedules to take care of the store operations. That is to say, from the time I first met John the Cop, I didn’t actually get an opportunity to discuss any of the happenings with Greg for a few weeks.
One Friday morning, probably a month and a half or so into my total of 2 months working at the store, Greg and I crossed paths at one of the stores and started chatting about whatever (probably bitching about how shitty our crackhead boss is). Something about John the Cop had been bugging me for awhile, so I casually brought him up.
“I’ve had a few run-ins with John the Cop,” I said to Greg.
“Oh, yeah,” Greg replied, knowingly.
“So, he usually brings the DVDs back to you?” I asked, rhetorically (so I thought). Greg laughed.
“Nah, man, he doesn’t bring them back. He just takes them.” Shit. “Yeah, that guy hates Steve” (the crackhead boss), “they got in some big fight awhile back. So he just takes whatever he wants.”
“Shit! He told me he was bringing them back to you.”
“Nope. Don’t worry about it. I figure it’s just better to stay out of it.”
I was an accessory to some pretty pricey theft. But Greg was right, there was really nothing to do but stay out of it. By this point, the crackhead boss had stopped paying his employees, was taking money from the till nightly and showing up to the store with prostitutes. Neither he or John the Cop were really on the right side of the law, and I frankly didn’t care if they both went down.
Of course, within the next couple weeks, my crackhead boss would be busted by the police with a prostitute and a trunk full of drugs (apparently the prostitute took the fall for the drugs), and then one of the stores would be shutdown due to lack of payment on rent. This would all lead up to that fateful Sunday when the crackhead and I had an all out yelling match where I decided to quit on the spot.
Quitting led to better things, so I was happy to leave that store behind.
Plus, I never saw John the Cop again. And I hope I never will. Or any cops for that matter. Yeah, yeah, not all cops are crooked assholes, I’m aware of that. But there are John the Cops out there, and I’d gladly avoid all police just to make sure I never have another run-in with his type.
Oh, and by the way, I still have his phone number in my cell address book, under the name, “John the Cop.”