Cop Bites Dog / Teaching / Society / Social Order / Social Order / Cops /

Help! Police!

Late twenties. Teaching at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. My wife hears tormented yowling from Angus, our German Shepherd, trained from puppy hood to be a pussy cat. She goes outside. Angus is behaving like he’d run face-first, full-tilt into a porcupine. A young cop is standing there with a can of mace in his hand. “Lady, your dog bit me. So I maced him.”

Out of their window lean the neighbors, wife and daughter-in-law. “Oh no, you liar. The dog came up to you perfectly friendly. You maced him: then the dog bit you.” (There were no leash laws in Waterville at the time. Rumors of rabies in wildlife had precipitated the mace carrying. A temporary leash law was soon passed.)

At the college, I continued to hear about it for weeks. The paper had printed:
“Professor’s dog bites police officer.”

Angus in Riverside Drive apartment
Angus looking normal
a year or two later,
stretched in front of some of pk’s records

The Elmore Leonard novel I just read presents it as a commonplace for cops to carry a knife so they can put it into the hand of anybody they might mistakenly shoot. Eliminate ambiguity from the hearing. Shortly I’ll add a series of related pieces: justice, honesty, evidence, testimony …

The only good bureaucrat is one with a pistol at his head.
Put it in his hand and it’s good-by to the Bill of Rights

H. L. Mencken


Professor’s Dog Bites Cop:

I quote from memory. No doubt the Waterville paper would have a record even from 1968 or so.

Each culture has its own attitude about rank. Americans inherit the European’s looseness but, simultaneously, we niggle as it suits us. My academic rank at Colby was Instructor of English, hired on a series of one-year contracts (that is: no “rank” at all). It was mutually clear from the start that my career had no future there. It suited them to hire me for a year. It suited me to tread water till I changed Ph.D. ABD to PhD period.

2002 08 02 The context in which I write this, indeed, in which I write all of, is that of deschooling: no one may ask how someone was educated or how much education he has: no degrees, no certificates, no titles: examine the individual: if pedigree counts, pedigree will show: it doesn’t need to be told. Any number of modules here comment on how I defrocked myself from the university system. I am the barefoot teacher, not the titled teacher.

The foregoing is not likely to make sense to you on first hearing unless you’ve read Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society, visited my FLEX.

Once that happened it was mutually clear, also from the start, that I nevertheless had no future there. I had my field in common with the Chairman of the Department. Another with the same specialty had both seniority and tenure. Two Renaissance/Seventeenth Century scholars were more than enough for a small college. No, I was just there to help with the basics. Though they did throw me a bone or two, like enticing me for a second year with the promise of one course for majors. (An agreement for a third year will be recounted in another context.)

I have never called myself Doctor. (Though “Dr. Knatz” was my nickname at my job in high school, bestowed by that supermarket’s manager.) I have never called myself Professor. Students called me: Paul, Mr. Knatz, Dr. Knatz, Professor Knatz and probably other names as well. I never pulled out the department flow chart to correct them. (I add 3/25/1 while moving things around in this file: luminaries from Rollo May to Carl Sagan have addressed me as “Doctor,” but not from any prompting on my part. note They guessed: believing (correctly) that I wouldn’t be offended.) Correctness wasn’t relevant so long as the spoken language is taken as loose. As a transient, there was no reason for me to know the department flow chart. I assume the Chairman was Full Professor. But who was Assistant and who was Associate …? Why bother? It’s important only to administration: composing the budget and writing the checks.

Related digressions:
I was announced at my interview. The Chairman rose to shake my hand. “Mr. Knatz. A pleasure to meet you.”
“Mutual, I am sure, Dr. Benbow.”
“Mark, please.”
“Thank you, Mark.”

At NYU all the doctors had called each other “Mister.”

MDs, among themselves, admit to the state of their ignorance, worry (and admit to the worry) regarding how many patients they kill. Lawyers, among themselves, mourn the incidence of low intelligence and lower morals within the profession. Present company always excepted. Among themselves, priests have some idea of the percentage of pederasts among them: doubters, faithless …

Sub rosa, any guild will take off at least some of its masks. (The greatest of all things about Watergate to me was seeing the willfully gullible public forced to listen to Nixon and friends on the Whitehouse tapes doing a damn authentic imitation of the Mafia.)

Of course informality can be a mask of its own. In the Whitehouse we had “Ike,” and “Dick”: then “Ron”; now “Bill.” [2001 03 25 And now there’s another Bush. I don’t even know his first name.] In Waterville academe we had “Mark” and “Chappy” at the top — and “Bob” and “Paul” at the bottom. How could you tell the pecking order? Breathe the air. You knew.

I hope that’s adequate introduction to one of my favorite memories of the period. The head librarian was officially a member of the faculty. He participated in the culture. “Rusty” I’ll call him, not remembering exactly. He’d just hired two new gofers for the busy work. The proud rooster was giving his new hens the lay of the land. He may have already introduced them to “Dave” and “Fred” and “Eileen” because he said, “Oh, and here’s Paul. Paul teaches the Renaissance Poetry course.
“Paul, this is … Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Jones.”

Ron, meet the new cucumber sandwich waitress for the Purple Pantry off the Oval Office: Ron, this is Mrs. Wilkins. Mrs. Wilkins, our President: Ron.

[2001 03 25 Obviously President Reagan was a recent memory at the time I wrote these parts. I’ll also add today a point I don’t think I’d remembered at the time of composition: I showed above that the next-door neighbors had willingly contradicted the cop’s excuse to my wife. That’s not normal neighborly behavior: most people shrink from any hint of disagreement with anyone bearing weapons. But now I remember: this cop was some cousin of theirs. They’d seen him in his dirty diapers and weren’t intimidated by his badge. They were all French(-Canadian) Mainers: Thibodaux, Larreux…]

That scenario may never have happened in the White House. Perhaps they figured out their double-protocol long ago. As my friend Phil (“Instructor” Rowe) commented when I told him the story, “They didn’t realize how the culture had switched signals. Insisting on their position, they unwittingly exposed how close they were to the bottom.” True. Though I had intended the story to be about the librarian, not the gofers. He, that “faculty member,” was the one who hadn’t thought it through.

Sutter, of gold rush fame, dubbed himself Colonel, then promoted himself to General. Southerners have long done the same: Colonel Sanders, for example. In Germany one could address any old man as Herr Doktor Professor.

My favorite joke on the subject was penned by Guillaume Apollinaire. Were I ever to honor myself by making up a title, I’d follow the lead of that Roman born Pole who made his fame in turn-of-the-century Paris, coining the term “Surrealist” among other accomplishments. No, not in Wilhelm Apollinaris de Kostrowitzki’s dropping his surname and Frenchifying his given first name. Not even in his emphasizing his given middle name’s descent from the Greek God of Poetry (and other forms of sunshine). No. Apollinaire wrote The Debauched Hospidar: my all-time champion for hysterical pornography. The protagonist, born in some nearly (politically) invisible East-European country to the hereditary but twelfth-rate rank of Hospidar (he had to be making at least that part up), is dissatisfied with his rank. Like his creator, he moves to Paris. Unlike his creator, he calls himself, thenceforth, whatever country he visits: Prince Vibiscu!

Of course I did name one of my companies by my own given first name: August Editions Limited. Come to think of it, Augustus Caesar also did a little self-promotion with his name. Wasn’t he born Octavius? Had my fiction been published, you might have seen it under Paul August. (Who the hell can deal with Knatz? And, I must confess, I’ve often joked of my nominal relationship to St. Paul.

(Added years later: And now Brian Andrew Knatz has renamed himself bkMarcus

1999 01 05 A new book called How to Ace Calculus has some funny words on the subject.

Paying Respects:

I’ve also had people kneel before me. And no, the guy wasn’t mocking me. Other’s present took him dead seriously and didn’t mock him. I’ll tell that story separately.

I find it hysterically funny that a bit later we ran into an old friend in a bar in the West Village who proceeded to regale my worshipper about what a “genius” I was!

Cop Stories

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
This entry was posted in Conviviality, cops, pk Teaching, social order, society. Bookmark the permalink.

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