Let’s break that down: “Would you…?” “…do me a favor” and “just pull over?!” Such courtesy… finesse… tact… coming not from just any everyday policeman, but a New York cop! “Would you…?”
Just ten seconds earlier, Mark, steering his car as we rolled north on 8th Avenue, said, “He’s going after someone.” And, seconds later, “It’s me.”
“He,” it was clear, was someone in a police car. But why? Mark hadn’t run a read light, wasn’t speeding, swerving or even changing lanes. We weren’t carrying stolen goods and couldn’t pass for drug pushers on the deadest of dog days.
Mark has a BMW. (That’s what happens when you’re making it in show business—and you’re a showman.) Bizarre as it seemed to me, I thought, but didn’t have time to suggest: Is it possible he wants to ask about the car? I went for the light joke instead: “He recognizes us! Not me, so it must be you.”
Mark’s laugh was interrupted by the deferential officer of the law pulling up next to him and asking the unusual suspect to do him a favor. “Would you… just…?”
By the time the car had come to a stop, Mark had his driver’s license in hand and was extending it to the officer, who declined it. Another police officer appeared at the window on my side of the car, asking to see my identification. If you’re noting that I’m not calling them “cops” or “New York’s finest” or anything of the like, it’s primarily because I don’t want you to read a New Yorkese-fuhgeddaboutit accent or any dialect into their words; both men spoke clearly, unaffectedly and well.
The officer on Mark’s side asked if either of us had had a radiology scan or been treated with radioactive materials. Mark, never at a loss for words, jerked his thumb toward me. Several hours earlier, I had undergone a PET/CT scan, which entailed receiving injections of radioactive materials. In effect, my insides were lit up. Both officers nodded knowingly; they were stopping me! While Mark and his officer started chatting amiably—is this too much?—mine asked what I’d been treated with. I had no idea. I described this metal cylinder that had dangled from my arm for an hour prior to the scan and the officer nodded again. Both men explained that I had been picked up by their radiation detectors. “Your tax dollars at work,” one of them said as they produced and showed us hand-held radiation devices.
“This is what you do?” I asked, wondering if the device could read my level of amazement, or how impressed I was. I think that was the second time I heard, “Your tax dollars at work.” These men ride around New York City’s streets all day, on the prowl for terrorists, saboteurs, mad bombers, malcontents and garden-variety grouches with short fuses. I didn’t fit the profile. The officer proudly showed me his detection device, roughly the size of a stone-age cell phone. As he waved it nearer and farther from me, the needle on the meter reflected higher and lower readings. I was notably radioactive.
I was also intrigued, and brimming with questions the officer seemed to enjoy answering. When it struck me that he was standing in a light rain answering them, I quickly apologized and moved to let him off the hook, but he put himself right back on it, assuring me he was fine.
At that point, we both heard the other officer telling Mark about a woman whose radioactivity uniquely triggered their detectors. Completely by chance, they had picked up alarm signals from the ground beneath their feet. They nimbly deduced the signals were emanating from the pipes submerged below the street’s paving. They followed their instincts and their meters into a nearby office building, continued to a particular floor and to the door of a ladies’ room. And waited for its occupant to emerge. When she did, they asked her, with apologies, the same line of questions they asked me. Sure enough, she’d just had a PET scan with radioactive materials. What the detectors had picked up from the pipes was the high level of radiation from her waste matter.
It only remained for them to emphasize that we are surrounded by radiation, but at safer, lower levels. It was time for our tax dollars at work to go back to work. “My” officer, becoming one of New York’s finest now in my eyes, extended his hand to me and said, “Whatever you were scanned for, I hope it comes out all right.” I’ve had mixed and many dealings with the police before, but none of them ever ended with a handshake.
Not many days from now, we will mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11. At some point over the ten years since that day, our city took a major stride toward protecting everyone in it at any random time, and took no credit for it.