08/28/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

My "Teachable Moments" with the Cambridge Police

The recent uproar about the arrest of the distinguished Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates called to mind my own experiences with the Cambridge police during my years in college, several decades ago. As with the incident involving Prof. Gates, each of these encounters provided what President Obama called a "teachable moment," a unique opportunity for constructive debate and, ultimately, enlightenment. I know I learned something every time; my hope is that our nation can, as well.


Location: Harvard Yard

Description: Provided refuge to three athletes from upstairs who had been throwing water balloons at passers-by after a Cambridge Police car had idled slowly past, causing them to flee their own rooms and seek sanctuary in mine.

Lessons Learned: Hopes of befriending popular athletes by doing them a service quickly dashed; friendship of popular athletes probably not worth expulsion; even sensitive pacifist intellectuals can be provoked to violence by water balloons.


Location: Claverly Hall

Description: Resident tutor threatens to "call the Cambridge Police" after I put speakers in the hallway in order to play new Rolling Stones album to fellow students.

Lesson Learned: Resident tutor is a complete dick.


Location: Mt. Auburn Street

Description: Cambridge policeman gives me a $35 ticket for parking in a "No Standing" zone while I am trying to help attractive senior girl move some furniture from storage in the Lowell House basement. Forced to admit to cop that I can't move her Volkswagen Rabbit convertible because I can't drive a stick shift.

Lessons learned: Attractive people have strong sense of entitlement; women can spend a very long time in the bathroom; always calibrate language carefully when volunteering for anything.


Location: Outside Boston-Boston disco

Description: Attempt to deescalate conflict between inebriated roommate and a local man is misunderstood. Both roommate and local man overreact and become extremely disrespectful towards me. Policeman* on motorcycle tells us all to "shut the fuck up and go the fuck home."

Lessons learned: Just wearing a tuxedo is an affront to some people; my friends are not always worthy of me; a shared enemy can forge a bond between antagonists; even if they fail to behave professionally, sometimes it is a relief to see a policeman.


Location: Unclear

Description: After celebrating football victory over Colgate in popular student hang-out, I experience a period of temporary amnesia during which time I acquire some bruises on my legs and a deep scratch on my face. Among the possibilities to be considered are that these injuries were inflicted by the Cambridge Police.

Lessons Learned: You can't blame the Cambridge Police for everything; getting two beers for the price of one is not necessarily a bargain; when bad things happen, it can be constructive to think about how much worse they might have been; sometimes just sitting down and having a beer with some buddies creates more problems than it solves.

* Technically, this was probably a Boston policeman