I don’t think most kids grow up aware of what their parents do for living.
“Johnny, do you know what your dad does?”
“Um…he works in an office and…um…I think he sells stuff?” Little Johnny might say when in actuality Johnny’s dad or mom may work as an insurance underwriter.
And years before Take your child to work day, my dad wildly broke working barriers for his daughters by busting us right through his work place doors into the nitty gritty of the St. Louis Police Department headquarters. I knew what my dad did. It wasn’t often that he took my sister and me to his office but it did happen. He spent little time at the department, only processing would-be criminals and typing reports but, he did spend time there. Sometimes we stopped by the precinct to pick up a paycheck before running errands. This simple stop was met by many “Hi there’s” and “How ya doins’”.
I particularly enjoyed going to downtown’s headquarters. We typically found some place on Market to park. Market is a 5-lane street in St. Louis’ downtown. If we were parked where mere civilians were not allowed, dad flashed some special car badge that gave us a sort of protected shield around our car protecting us from traffic cops and parking maids alike. My jay walking days began there traipsing across Market to headquarters.
Cars zoomed by us paying no attention. I was afraid of being run over.
“You can’t be afraid girls, come on,” He would say grabbing our hands, “Never show fear.”
I have to admit that sometimes I just clenched my eyes shut.
Approaching headquarters, my dad often chimed in, “See that,” My dad pointed to a smaller, granite building feet from the police headquarters. “That’s the morgue.” And then we would all go silent as if paying our respects to those who lost their lives. I wondered what sort of mad scientist cut open and examined the bodies. Well, people die I thought.
Cop cars, both patrol cars and under cover cars, patty wagons and crime scene unit vans swarmed the area. I somehow felt guilty, like the criminals. I was afraid that one wrong move and I would be thrown behind bars and left to wait until someone could bail me out and even then, my release iffy.
I suspect headquarters was built like cathedrals, to inspire awe, respect, and fear. It felt as if it was situated on a hill but, you just had to climb a flight of stairs to reach the front doors. Then, the doors were narrow and tall and heavy to open; ancient doors with metal framing. I’m sure visitors are now immediately affronted by metal detectors and police monitoring the screening process. I remember the bail counter for those trying to rescue their friends and loved ones from jail. I remember seeing sadness and desperation from people sitting in pews waiting in silence for someone’s release.
I recall a gentleman behind a podium that stood before a series of elevators directing or regulating one’s coming and going. We were greeted with a “Hi so in so” and waved people on.
The steel elevator doors locked shut and held in the smell of years of stale cigarette smoke, sweat, body odor, and coffee. My dad rose through several departments. Like all professions, police departments have a pecking order. For example, no one likes to work vice. No one likes to work rape cases, prostitution, etc. I don’t know if it’s too hard on the cops, if they get tired of the sexual underbelly of society, if they grow weary of false accusations or what. Perhaps it’s all of the above and many other reasons I haven’t listed. He did work vice though.
Since most of the detectives spent most of their time running around chasing leads and scrambling ways to close a case or processing a fresh murder, most of the offices were empty. But, one or 2 other guys were always around fumbling over a type writer or milling over a phone. Each detective had a desk reminiscent of the 1960’s and a phone. Florescent lighting hung overhead from the tall ceilings. Coffee burned in the background. Desks were positioned in straight and orderly rows to mimic a sense of tidiness amiss the chaos but the room was still a hodgepodge of filing cabinets, mismatched furniture,, telephones, and paper. My dad’s desk was obsessively so tidy. Every paperclip was at home in its box. His inbox was empty. While his desk was darkened from years of abuse, but I could bet my dad disinfected his desk so much though that a baby could eat off it.
My dad grabbed me by my shoulder. His boxer’s hands were vice-like and I had a passing fear that he would forget that I was made of flesh and bone and he would inadvertently crush me. He pushed me forward.
“Dan, this is my oldest, Deanna,” He said, “And this is Lindsay, my youngest.”
“Hello,” I replied.
“Your dad brought you to the precinct huh,” One of the detectives asked.
“Cute kids Joe,” The other detectives said.
“Okay girls sit here, and I’ll be just a minute,” My dad said motioning to a couple mismatched, wooden chairs. We sat as instructed.
We watched our dad shuffle some papers around on his desk and fill out other papers. He worked like a furry as if against an imaginary time clock. That was how he rolled, as fast as humanly possible all the time.
When he finished his paperwork, he took us to the supply closet, the real treasure trove of the visit. Our eyes must have glossed over looking at all the pens, pads of paper, legal notebooks. In retrospect, that was probably all that filled the supply closet besides coffee. The pads of paper couldn’t have been more stereotypical cop-like. 3-7, burnt red flip books used to take notes. The pens were basic and wrote horribly but they did say, St. Louis Police Department. My sister and I each got a pen and a notebook which were perfect for playing cops and robbers.