A Call From The Police

Not to be confused with a call from your friend Dave

So last week, the guy from the Police Athletic League called, just like every year, to ask if the PAL could count on another ten bucks from me. I told him of course, and a couple of days later, the envelope with the familiar shield icon in the upper left-hand corner came through my mail slot.

The Police Athletic League has been raising money from the private sector in order to fund sports, recreation and education programs for at-risk youth since the first chapter was founded in New York City in, no kidding, 1914. I have been giving a little money to the PAL, every year that I remember or that they remind me, for about a decade.

I don't do it for any good, wholesome or otherwise laudable reason, however. It's not concern for my fellow man, or simple altruism, or the promise of an extremely minor tax deduction that compels me to donate. It's not even that bizarre belief held by many with less than law-abiding lifestyles that a Police Athletic League sticker on one's car will go a long way toward inspiring leniency, if one is ever pulled over while committing some minor infraction.

It's guilt.

And not big, general, I-have-so-much-while-so-many-have-so-little guilt, either. It's a very specific guilt, tied directly to a seven-minute phone conversation I had in the mid-'90s.

Maybe eight years ago, I was living in Seminole Heights with a guy who liked me OK and a girl who didn't. I was either working nights or not working at the time - I can't remember which - so I was always home in the afternoon, playing guitar, watching Comedy Central, and not cleaning. One such afternoon, the phone rang. I answered it. The man on the other end said he was with the Police Athletic League, but I didn't think he was. I was positive, in fact, that he was actually a friend of mine, a local musician named Dave Korman, and that he was screwing with me.

I swear to God, that dude sounded exactly like Dave.

Well, I wasn't about to let myself get pranked. So I let "Dave" get through his long, suspiciously vague spiel about the PAL, and then, smiling widely to myself, I let him know that I was onto him.

I said:

"Look, sir, just tell me one thing. Is any of my hard-earned money going to go to the cops? Because man, I fucking hate cops."

The silence that followed was long enough to plant a seed of doubt in my mind, and cause my smile to falter a bit. But "Dave" recovered nicely, laughing a bit and assuring me that no, the money didn't go to the cops - in a manner of speaking, the money went directly to the kids.

Oh, he's good, he's a cagey bastard, this one, I thought, because I am an idiot.

And then I said:

"Well, they're not the cops' kids, are they? Because if there's anything I hate more than the cops, it's the fucking cops' kids."

The silence was even longer this time, and there was no uneasy laughter. By the time "Dave" began haltingly explaining to me that he couldn't be sure that none of the children in the various after-school programs were related to members of the police force, that while the programs were aimed at keeping latchkey kids and the like out of trouble, they were open to everyone, I could taste the acrid rubber and sweat-salty canvas of the size 10 1/2 Converse Chuck Taylor that I'd wantonly, gleefully tried to shove down my own throat. And I began mentally scrambling for a way to pull it back out of my gullet.

I changed my tone drastically and agreed to send in a check. "Dave" was probably flabbergasted when I said I'd donate; he was a real pro, a master of telecommunications etiquette. And ten minutes later, after I'd Star 69'ed him and asked the woman who answered if I could speak to the guy who'd just had the rudest conversation of the day (she knew exactly to what I was referring - they were obviously talking about it at that moment), I explained my mistake and apologized, and we had a good laugh over it.

But ever since then, every time I get the call from a representative of the Police Athletic League, I catch a phantom whiff of toe-funk, and the flavor of sock-less athletic sneaker tar tare rises in my throat, and I am ashamed. So I take a cue from the affluent liberals and religiously conflicted of the world, and I assuage my guilt through tithing.

It's just the price I gotta pay, I guess.

Whatever your motives, you can make a tax-deductible donation to the Pinellas chapter of the Police Athletic League by calling 727-582-5854, or to the Hillsborough chapter by calling 813-876-9363.

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