I was out doing errands in the late afternoon of a beautiful fall day. As I left the water company building after paying my bill I noticed how the trees appeared to be cradling the water tower and how the slowly setting sun created shadows and shine and how that all made the tower contrast beautifully with the sky.
Before I left the parking lot I took a few shots of the tower ...
About a half hour after I got home there was an insistent loud knocking at my side door. I opened the door and was greeted by two police officers.
"This your car?" asked one. I said it was. The other officer asked if I had been at the water company that day. I said I had.
"You were taking pictures?" she asked/accused/declared. At this point my face must have betrayed how relieved yet confused I was. When you open your door to find the police standing there you assume something terrible has happened to someone you love. When they asked about my car I struggled for a moment to remember for sure that I hadn't accidentally killed someone while backing out of a parking spot.
I invited them in and finally was able to say that yes, I had taken some photos of the water tower.
If you're a photographer and someone asks you why you took a shot of something a long explanation of light and color and composition and feeling springs to mind, much as I said in the opening paragraph. Yet if the person asking why is a police officer with a scowl and a hand on his gun belted hip all thought of sharing your creative spirit leaves you mute.
I simply said - "I take photos of lots of things." It sounded ridiculous even to me.
I asked if they wanted to see the photos and they said they did. I left them in the kitchen to go into my hallway to get the camera. This caused me to slam the door in their faces so that the cats didn't get loose. It took all of 5 seconds to grab the camera but I couldn't help but imagine that they were thinking that I had slammed the door in order to get my weapon.
I stomped my foot to make the cats scamper away and opened the door to the kitchen - my dangerous camera in hand. "Sorry about slamming the door in your face, didn't want the cats to get out." The officer who had looked like it was absurd to just take photos of things now smiled and said he had seen them.
I turned the camera on and handed it over. I couldn't find the review button without my glasses but they figured it out right off. One of them scanned through the photos, all the while nodding her head. I mentioned that I had a photo blog and posted my photos online to share with other photographers. I also said that I was hoping to sell a few at the upcoming crafts fair.
As she handed the camera back to me she explained that people taking photos of a water tower were considered "suspicious" and a "possible threat." I said that I had seen two water company employees drive out of the gated section of the lot as I was taking the photos. "Oh they're trained not to engage" she says. I replied that what I meant was that I had made no attempt to hide what I was doing. In my mind I was thinking - "not to engage" !!!! - give me a freaking break. I was standing there leaning on a cane, in all my overweight middle-aged glory, pointing my camera toward the sky.
Suddenly I was really sick of the whole scene. I scooted between them and went to hold open the screen door. "So we're done?" I asked/accused/declared. They said we were and thanked me. As I leaned out the door to watch them leave I saw their two patrol cars splayed across the street - why is it that they never park? - and I saw several of my neighbors out pretending to check their mailbox or rake some leaves. One neighbor came over and said he had assumed I was sick or hurt and asked if I was OK. Funny how he assumed I was sick or hurt but didn't come over while the police officers were there. I said I was fine and shut the door.
My gift to my neighbors - letting them wonder what I did.
In a wonderful yet sad twist of irony, while the water company employee was calling the police and while the police were running my plate to find my home I was at my last errand - showing ID and signing a document swearing that I needed my Advil for my sinuses and not to manufacture meth. In fact the pharmacist and I were laughing that while I was signing for one pack of 32 gel caps an entire shipment of the chemicals needed to run a really good meth lab were going through the port of Newark without inspection.
So there you have it - the nation is safe from avid photographers and people with stuffy heads. Our border to the south is walled and armed guarded from men with green thumbs willing to landscape the lawns of the very same people who will shoot at them through night vision goggles. Our airports are safe from women in underwire bras and men whose trouser packages hang to low or wide - or too far left.
The officers who visited me were professional and polite. In fact they were so young, and ridiculously attractive.
The Ken and Barbie of law enforcement.
Since this white middle-aged woman with a cane and a registered car was profiled I will assume that if the door had been opened by a person with darker skin or different clothing or an accent that sounded more Baghdad than Brooklyn they too would have been afforded the same cordial treatment.
One neighbor who does know the truth and nothing but the truth suggests I stop taking photos all over town. My response - "Fuck that! It is the land of the free and the home of the brave."