The two plain clothed cops began a litany of questions. I answered each. A patrol car pulled along side their unmarked van. Shortly after, an NYPD van slowly stopped alongside the deli where I had been buying flowers. As I quietly gave them answers, I had a question of my own.
Was Gayest Neil going to jail?!
Yesterday’s commute home was innocent enough. I jumped on the C train, managed to get a seat for the long ride into Brooklyn. A young mother with a pointed nose harshly shushed her baby as he playfully screeched. Recent graduates in purple and white sat laughing, holding their folded, shiny robes.
To Kill a Mockingbird was in my rugby bag, at home, so I stared at my feet the whole way home. I was simply content to have a seat after twisting my ankle during Saturday’s game.
The train stopped at Lafayette Avenue. I toyed with the impulse to get off and go buy flowers rather than ride to Clinton/Washington, my usual stop. It was a nice day. A slow stroll down Greene Avenue would do my ankle well.
And I wanted to give Bryce daisies.
I stepped from the train, my first time getting off at that particular stop. I remember the ledge between the train and platform was a weathered board with nails in it. I ascended the subway stairs, took an immediate left and found the deli with the brilliant display of fresh cut flowers. A psychedelic “Fresh Juice” sign hung overhead.
Cash. Inside the deli I withdrew sixty dollars and stepped back outside to buy my flowers. No prices were listed. A quick consult with the Hispanic cashier, “seeex dollars and up”, and I was all set to brighten my apartment.
Yellow daisies. I took the flowers and turned to reenter the deli. In my peripheral vision two men in sweatshirts and jeans quickly entered my personal space. I glanced up. One was a beefy Italian man, young. The other was a short Asian man, young as well.
“Can we talk to you sir?” The beefy Italian, lets call him Bruno, asked.
Great. What do these guys want? Donations for charity? To save my soul?
“I’m busy…” I mumbled something evasive. These two guys were still encroaching on my personal space.
Now the exact events are a little hazy at this point. Suddenly they were both within kissing distance of me. They revealed badges around their neck. They informed me they were NYPD and asked if I had a concealed firearm.
A concealed firearm?!
Bruno asked if he could pat me down. Sadly, my wit was diffused by sheer police-in-my-face panic. I numbly complied. Bruno softly manhandled my chest, waist, pockets and legs with the delicateness of a kitten making a bed on a feather pillow.
And I quipped not a single word. No concealed weapon was found. It was at this time the questions began. Name? Address? Do I live in the area? Can I see a picture ID?
The backup arrived at this time.
The Asian police officer, let’s call him Sam, spoke into a radio to “call it off”. He told me an anonymous caller tipped off the NYPD that he/she saw a man matching my description with a concealed gun. Somehow discussion of my “description” came up.
“Bald, white male, black jacket, khakis, mid-forties.” It was certainly a match, except...
“I’m thirty one!” I declared with mock disdain.
My wit had returned. Sam and Bruno chuckled and asked a few follow-ups like had I argued with anyone on the train, had anyone looked at me funny, etcetera. They told me the call had been placed only a minute and a half ago. Roughly the time it had taken for me to disembark the train and peruse the flowers.
I think it was a prank call. After a few more minutes the officers bid me goodbye, and apologized. I think they apologized. I remember telling them my heart was beating. I dumbly walked into the deli to buy flowers following my good cop/bad cop frisking.
I was a Clinton Hill folk hero for fifteen seconds as people in line quizzed me concerning what happened at the flower stand. An older black lady in a fashionable skirt and matching hat expressed surprise that they thought I had a gun. The Latina cashier told me the same thing happened to her cousin. I was still numb from the whole experience.
I’m still a little spooked by how quickly they had appeared from nowhere and cornered me in seconds.