I have to tell you what a bang-up job our law enforcement is doing to keep the citizens of the fair city of New York safe. Take a recent Sunday morning, one of those gorgeous, sunny, but not too cold winter days when our family decided to go skating at Wollman Rink with our friend Anne and her four kids. We arrived at 11:30 AM, just as the rink was getting crowded, but we pushed our way through the holiday throngs, rented skates, left our shoes on top of the lockers with the hundred or so other pairs up there -- all the lockers were taken at that point -- and off we glided, skating blissfully around the artificial Trump pond ("He puts his name on everything," one of our kids remarked) until the Zamboni machine came out and our stomachs began to rumble.
That's when things got interesting, terrorist-wise. Anne left her purse and four children (ages 2, 4, 8, and 10) outside with us while she went to fetch her family's shoes. The place was suddenly crawling with cops, which alarmed us at first, but like the jaded New Yorkers we are, we decided to ignore it. A young policewoman was watching Anne struggle with her children's shoes, but it was only when my friend reached up to grab her own boots off the top of the locker that the cop came in for the kill. "Are those your boots, Ma'am?" she asked Anne.
"Yes," Anne answered. "Look." She dropped the rest of the shoes on the floor to try on the boots to prove that they were, indeed, hers. She assumed the policewoman thought she was trying to steal them.
"Well, I'm going to need to see some ID then."
"ID?" Anne said, wondering if she was somehow underage -- or, heaven forbid, overage -- for boot-wearing. "What for?"
"I'm sorry, Ma'am, I'm just going to need to see some ID."
Anne explained that her purse, with her ID in it, was outside with us, that she had four hungry kids who were waiting for their shoes and lunch, that she couldn't understand how her ID would in any way prove that she was indeed the owner of her own boots.
"Fine," said the cop, "I'll follow you out."
Anne, now completely befuddled, gathered her large pile of mini-sneakers and led her new friend outside, where we were unlacing the kids' skates and trying to calm down Anne's two-year-old ("Where's my mommy?!") while simultaneously keeping her four-year-old from disappearing into the crowd. The older kids were fine, until they saw Anne being escorted over to us by the cop. Her son Quinn, in fact, stole a glance at the woman's gun and looked stricken. "What's wrong, Mom?"
"Nothing, sweetheart, I just have to give my ID to the police."
"Is she arresting you?"
I had to admit, minus the handcuffs and Miranda rights, that's sure what it looked like.
Now all of us were confused, wondering what Anne could have possibly done to warrant such interest from the police. "Is there a problem, officer?" I asked.
"She thinks I stole my own shoes," Anne said.
"I didn't say that," said the cop, getting snippy. She walked away with Anne's driver's license and ordered her to stay put until she got back.
Now Quinn started to cry. "Is she going to put you in jail?"
While Anne tried to calm her son, my husband Paul and I were sorting through all the sneakers, trying to figure out which kid belonged to which pair. Finally, every one of our kids were re-shod except Grey, Anne's eldest, whose sneakers seemed to be missing. "I'll go look for them," Paul offered, because of course Anne had been ordered not to move by the woman with the gun.
While Paul left to go search for Grey's sneakers, the policewoman came back with Anne's license and a summons. It was the color of cotton candy, and it said at the top, "The People of the State of New York versus Anne S-----." It claimed that Anne was in violation of Section 104, sub. C4, park regs. Which in English means "unattended property." It said she was to appear in criminal court at 10:30 A.M. on March 10th of this year, and that should she fail to do so it would result in the warrant for her arrest.
"Unattended property?" I said. "There's eight hundred pairs of shoes in there! All the lockers are filled."
Anne was too shocked to speak.
"You from around here?" the cop asked me.
"Yes, I live here."
"Then you should know better than to leave your property unattended. It could get stolen." I detected the slightest hint of a smile on her face.
"My shoes were stolen," Grey piped in, holding her feet in her hands to keep them warm.
"See what I mean," said the officer, more than a little smugly. "That's what happens when you leave your property unattended."
"This is not about stolen property," I said. But I didn't want to say what it was about in front of the kids. Quinn was crying hard enough already. He didn't need to hear that the cop was accusing his mom of being a potential shoe bomber. That phones in America are being tapped. That we are living in what's beginning to feel more and more like a police state.
"I'm sorry, officer," Anne now said. "I really don't understand."
"What's there to understand? You broke the law, you are to appear in court on the date listed on the summons."
"But, but..." Anne is the head of sales for a fixed income division of a large international investment bank. For her to leave her office -- let alone her desk chair -- in the middle of a workday ranks somewhere between difficult and impossible. She sighed.
Just then, Paul came back from his search for Grey's sneakers, empty handed. "Couldn't find them," he said.
"Let this be a lesson, then," the cop said, rubbing it in. "Next time, get a locker."
"But there were none," I repeated.
"That's not my problem," said the cop. Then she walked away.
Grey shook her head. "How am I going to get home without my sneakers?"
Anne, switching back into parental coping mode, said she thought there might be a Modell's nearby. Paul offered to carry the lanky ten-year-old piggyback out of the park. Grey hopped on my husband's back, as resigned to her absurd fate as her mother now was to her own.
Then, just as we were leaving the rink, the cop came up to us one last time, dangling a pair of children's sneakers from her fingers. "Recognize these?" she said. They were Grey's sneakers.
Now my ten-year-old started to cry. "Oh my God," he said, when we were out of earshot of the police. "She stole her sneakers! The cops are corrupt!"
"What does corrupt mean?" asked my daughter.
But by then we were all too shocked to answer.