How many more escapes will I have to devise?
I was picking the lock on the first door I had come to. My heart was pounding out of my chest, and I was sure someone was going to come down the corridor at any moment.
The map of the edge of the world said this was the door to a storage facility and the rolling garage door nearby confirmed that. It would be good enough.
As the lock clicked open, I whispered thanks to Steven Hampton, author of Secrets of Lock Picking, and to Richard Feynman whose lessons about bureaucratic idiocy had given me the confidence to carry a pen that was good for picking locks.
Feynman is great, but I have to focus. I opened the door and scanned the room. An orange rack of boxes stretched up toward a high roof. But no one was around. Just security cameras.
I peeked cautiously around the first rack. Identical racks repeated for some distance, but I was alone. Even the nowhere Voice had not followed me.
This was too convenient. I whispered the thing about not looking gift horses in the mouths while I checked the nearest cabinet. There was a box of garbage bags inside. Perfect. I moved from camera to camera around the room tying a bag over each one.
Now I was really alone.
I raced up and down the aisles of the warehouse trying to spot things that I could use to make my next escape really count.
Bicycle tires, boxes of Columbia House CD’s, bikini alligator coffee mugs, spools of rope, beach buckets and shovels, gravel, a tempting aisle with boxes of books, PVC pipe, storm drain covers, forklift, a door marked Emergency Exit, paint cans…
I stopped short. An emergency exit.
I had always assumed Seahaven Island was a real place where things were real, even as I grew suspicious of my neighbors. I assumed books about the world were real. As much as I doubted people, I still believed in trees and birds. There’s no reason to doubt the universe when you have the sky and everything under it.
But I never had the sky.
In my escape, I had set sail expecting to come back to land. There would be another city, a lawyer, the FBI, someone I could ask for help. I believed in these things.
Instead I had reached the edge of the world. If I was smart I would have wondered what else was fake.
But it looked like the outside world would have normal things. Books, gravel, PVC pipe, marketing scams, and emergency exits. I was relieved before I even knew I was worried. And sure, these things could have been invented for Seahaven Island, but I could still walk out the door and stand under the real sky.
I looked out the little window in the door. There it was. Bright, blue, ordinary. There were clouds. And down on earth, trees in the distance.
I could just throw open the door and head for that forest. Breathe free air. Make a mad dash for the next town and ask for help. If there was a next town.
I’m running out of time! I needed to get out of there, but it had to be clean. If they followed me into the forest, my chances would fall. I had to at least buy myself time.
I needed to die.
I devised and initiated a hasty plan. I gathered ropes and started tying them from the first orange rack to the door where I had come in. Then I paused. I planned to balance the orange rack precariously so it would crash down when someone pulled the ropes by opening the door. This wasn’t going to work.
New plan. I left the ropes tied to the racks and door and ran to the forklift. I put on the hardhat and orange vest I found inside, and then I drove the forklift behind the first rack.
As soon as someone burst through the door, I would hit the lever to raise the forklift and it would tip the rack over for me. The rack was too far from the door to hurt anyone, but I would scream as it fell and then I’d slip out the emergency exit in my hardhat and orange vest. Hopefully they’d think I was dead or hurt under there. If anyone was still looking outside, maybe my outfit would make them think I was just a warehouse worker.
Not enough destruction… It would be too easy to see I wasn’t under all the mess. I moved the forklift behind the second rack. Rack two would knock over rack one and there’d be a complicated mess.
I opened a few red paint cans and placed them on the second rack to add a little pizzazz.
Between this and the way I escaped from Seahaven Island, I was making even more trouble than the night I wound up in jail.
I waited… I must have burned fifteen minutes since I had come in. Learning the forklift had taken half that time.
Where are these idiots?
I checked my work. I even put a hypothesis into orbit around my head of how likely my plan was to succeed. I reconsidered all the variables.
Still no one came.
Something was wrong. If They could track me through Seahaven Island with their hidden cameras, they should be smart enough to notice these security cameras went black.
Someone must have come to look for me at the dark doorway where I left the world. I wasn’t there anymore, but how stupid could they be? Did they just assume I couldn’t get through the nearest door because it was locked?
God, so much failure…
After a few minutes, I wandered back and browsed the labels on the boxes of books.
“Hey, I know these books!” I said aloud. One of my first acts as mayor was to order new books for the library. Every single book they had was over 30 years old. Kathryn Wormwood had blamed the post office when the shipment never arrived in the library. But they were here.
I looked over the boxes. Most of them were glued shut for shipping, but they all had labels. I soon found three with the label I wanted: The 2020 World Book Encyclopedia.
Where to start… I considered the outstanding hypotheses orbiting my head. I had two: one was about the forklift plan; the other was I Am Not The Only One. That’s when a deep sinking sensation hit me.
I pulled open World Book Box #1, ripping the glue that held it closed.
I pulled out Volume 2, the B’s, and opened it about a quarter of the way from the end. Bug (Computing). No. I kept flipping pages. Burbank, California. Burbank, South Dakota. Burbank, Washington. I finally took a breath. There was no article for Burbank, Truman.
I was the focus of some giant conspiracy, but at least I wasn’t famous. I must be a secret. I shivered at the horror of it. But this was good to know. All I had to do was expose the secret, and I’d get my freedom. I could go back to the forklift and just relax with the encyclopedia.
But I couldn’t leave well enough alone. I wanted this to be true, so it was suspect. I refused to fall victim to motivated stopping. I needed to check for Seahaven Island.
I didn’t have to rip the glue on Box #3, and I found out why. Someone had taken S to Sn.
“God damn it!” I shoved the whole box to the ground, spilling the volumes. How could They have known I would show up here to look for it?
Not for the first time, I wished I had Meryl and Marlon with me. Like always I wrote off this feeling as nostalgia. I did fine on my own.
I took a breath. Next step, Truman. I reached in among the scattered books and found the Reference Index instead. The last volume of an encyclopedia lists everything you could think of and where it can be found, even in other articles.
Burbank Airport-South station, See Amtrak.
Burbank, California, Volume 2, page 313.
Burbank, South Dakota, Volume 2, page 314.
Burbank, Truman, See Truman Show, The.
My eyes stuck there, trying to see through it to something that made sense. Truman Show, The. Whatever this was it was very bad.
I stepped through the open doors of a warehouse at the docks. It smelled like fish and ocean, but if I couldn’t see the water I trusted I wouldn’t get too nervous.
It was a few months after I turned 21 and I was solving a murder: the fourth and final murder as it would turn out.
I had seen Bertrand Partridge step into this building wearing a polo shirt and a necktie. I wondered again at the irony that he’d turned out to be a murderer after I got him off the hook three years earlier. I had doubted it when I put it all together. It felt too coincidental. But just because he was innocent of one murder, that didn’t lower my estimation that he was a murderer this time. The hypothesis Partridge Killed Gilbert had grown heavier until it fell out of orbit and burned into my brain.
Now I needed to get a confession out of him so Officer Linda Groupon would believe me. I just wished she’d give me some credit. I was always right.
The warehouse was abuzz with workers, so I grabbed a clipboard and hardhat from the wall. Now I looked like I belonged there, except for my sneakers.
I didn’t see Partridge anywhere, but there was just one door near enough to dodge into, and it was swinging closed. I headed there. Nobody paid me any attention because of my costume. I was a genius.
Of course everyone was acutely aware of my presence. They only pretended to be fooled by my disguise. I was such an idiot.
I passed through the door into a stairwell.
That’s when Partridge grabbed me. I gasped. In a split second he had me pinned with my chest up against the wall and my arm behind my back. He ripped off my hardhat and threw it away into the shadows.
“Truman!” He said in a gruff, furious voice. “You’re the one following me? Damn it, kid. What do you think you know?”
I had a few choices then. I could have shouted “I know you killed Teresa Gilbert!” but I didn’t know how he’d react. I could have claimed I didn’t know what he was talking about, but I doubted he’d buy that. My strongest instinct was to goof and agree, “You’re right, I am following you. Do you have a moment to discuss our good lord and savior, Godzilla?”
I chose silence.
Goof and agree was my strategy for relieving pressure. When you’re too quiet, people put pressure on you with questions and social obligations. But that’s just because they also feel the pressure of social obligations. Bertrand Partridge was feeling it right then, even in this antisocial interaction. And I needed him to keep feeling the pressure. I needed him to fill in the blank.
“You think you know about that bimbo with the messed up Ferrari?”
Silence. I thought about the tape recorder in my pocket. He spun me around and pinned both of my shoulders. Now face to face, I could feel the social pressure like hot breath on both of us.
“You think you know?!? I’ll tell you. I spent weeks fawning after her and what did I get? She was two timing me with that worm, Klotzman.”
I swallowed a knot in my throat. I fought myself to say nothing. No goofs. Certainly not “Looks like you’re the klotz, now.”
“You think I killed her? I don’t know the first thing about tampering with a clutch.”
That was close enough to a confession. I threw my arms up between us and thrust his arms outward. His face showed genuine surprise as he lost his leverage and I shoved him away. I should have stayed silent then, but I couldn’t resist anymore.
I said, “Ha! If you didn’t kill her, how did you know the clutch caused the crash? That wasn’t in the papers!”
“You stupid brat. I’ll–”
“Hold it right there, Partridge!” I turned to see Officer Groupon coming down the stairs with her famous M&P 2.0 trained on Partridge. As she crossed to stand by me, Partridge backed up to give her space.
“Did you hear him, Linda?” I asked.
“I heard every word, Truman.”
“You… wait, everything? So you could have come down at any moment and you just waited?” Sure I played Partridge okay, but I wouldn’t have minded some help from a cop.
“Not now, Truman. Partridge, put your hands behind your head. Nice and slow.”
Partridge started to comply, then he dashed up the stairs. He was quicker than I would have guessed. We both chased him, but I reached the roof long before Linda. There I stopped and stared wide eyed at Partridge and at the Gulf of Mexico stretching out behind him. A seagull squawked somewhere.
“I’ll never let that cop catch me alive, Truman. I never should have let it get this far…” Partridge was teetering on the edge of the roof. His tie danced in the breeze. I broke out in a cold sweat as I pictured the water hundreds of feet below him crashing against the rocks at the building’s foundation.
It was probably not hundreds of feet, but my imagination would not be bridled.
Partridge clenched his fists, and I thought he was getting ready for something difficult. I couldn’t think any faster than that when the world wouldn’t hold still.
“Hey, Truman. Say that thing for me.”
“That thing you always say. ‘In case I don’t see ya…’”
“You mean, good afternoon, good even–” That’s when Bertrand Partridge jumped. The last thing I saw was his tie.
The wind blew and the sun shone. My hands shook like leaves.
Linda finally burst out of the roof access door. She looked around, her weapon pointed to the floor.
“What happened, Truman?”
“He… he jumped.”
Linda walked to the edge and peered over easily as if the ocean wasn’t searching for another body to consume. “Oh, he’s dead alright,” and she holstered her weapon.
I clutched at the door handle and bent over. I felt guilty not saying it. A man was dead. It was his last wish. Even a murderer gets a last wish. So I granted it… “And goodnight.”
During the weeks of pursuing the Ferrari Killer, all I could think about was returning to normalcy.
Normalcy was Seahaven Island Community College, the only higher education option I ever had.
They didn’t offer any major I was interested in. Only one course on economics. I didn’t really need to learn about supply and demand, but I took the easy A.
Anyway, majoring in Hospitality & Culinary Arts was more tolerable than crossing the bridge to another college.
It was more tolerable on any other day.
When the police were done taking my statement and I had handed over my tape recorder, I skipped Professor Paula Deen’s Pastry Concepts and Design class and just went home. I must have stared into space for an hour thinking about what it was like to be Bertrand Partridge as he plunged into the ocean. Or sometimes I imagined it was onto rocks. I hadn’t seen what happened to him.
That’s where my mind was when my mother came home.
“Truman, have you seen my Women’s League membership tag? I know I left it on the hutch. Well, you’ll never believe who called me at the office today.” Mom walked past me and through the kitchen. “Sheila Reynolds. She’s working for the mayor’s re-election campaign.” She was walking back to the hall. “It’s proud work, but I’m surprised she had the nerve to call me up. It must have been three years since I…” She stopped in the foyer sounding exasperated. “Truman, what are you doing? Are you even listening?” Then she looked away and started fixing her hair in the mirror.
“I saw a man jump to his death today, Mom.” I was lying on the couch, watching nothing on the ceiling, hugging a pillow.
“Yes, I heard about that. I never thought Bertrand Partridge was the type. Do you know, he used to park his Corvette on the beach and sit on the hood tanning and winking at all the women?” She kept walking and kept talking. “What a beastly man. The Corvette was nice though. Very sleek. I hear the new Corvette models give even more adrenaline. Oh, no,” she interrupted herself. “Truman, can I ask you to go down to the corner store? I’m supposed to bring ice cream to the meeting. Honestly, I don’t see why Mary Ann doesn’t do it. She’s the treasurer and she certainly has plenty of time.”
My mother waved a ten dollar bill above my face.
“Yes, Truman, please hurry or I’ll be late.”
I took the bill and dragged myself off the couch. I stepped back out into the 73°F/22°C summer air. Mrs. Jenkins rode by on her bike. A car drove past at the end of the street. The driver was singing. No one else could feel Partridge’s death. The world might as well be a game to them.
I headed down the sidewalk watching my feet.
I waved at Mr. Kremeli as I entered Kraft Heinz Convenience Store and passed his counter. I came back carrying two quarts of vanilla and chocolate ice cream.
Mr. Kremeli smiled. A nice-day-come-again smile of politeness and properly functioning society. I broke on the inside. This was too much for me. People were dying in the world. People I knew. Nothing was properly functioning.
As Mr. Kremeli handed back my change, I got a bad idea. The world was broken anyway…
“Mr. Kremeli, this isn’t enough change. I gave you a twenty.”
Kremeli looked at me, frozen in a polite smile. A clock ticked. Refrigerators hummed. I almost walked out. I would go into hiding in shame for trying this trick. Then he said, “Of course, Truman. Here you go,” and he handed me the ten dollar bill I had just given him. “Don’t spend it all in one place.”
Guilt flashed through my mind. What had I done? Stolen from an old man who walks his dog past my house every day. A man who needs a cane whenever rain is on the way.
I smiled and said, “Thanks, Mr. Kremeli. And in case I don’t see you, good afternoon, good evening, and goodnight!”
When I got home I smiled at Mom, handed her the ice cream, and went upstairs to change my clothes. Nothing fancy, the kind of thing I wore when I used to wait tables. I had a vague plan. When Mom left, I headed downtown. I was 21 and this broken world was mine.
I started looking for opportunities. There are dozens of opportunities we ignore every day when we’re just trying to get from here to there without a fuss.
I found myself in front of the American Eagle Movie Theater. They were playing The Breakfast Club in their single auditorium. When no one was looking I checked the trash can outside for discarded ticket stubs. Someone’s stub for the matinee showing was there for the taking.
I had noticed a failure mode once. Ticket rippers never hassle people who just walk right by and flash a torn ticket. They just assume they left for something and came back.
But then I started to doubt myself. What if he stopped me just this once? Maybe I could try to mess the ticket up so the guy couldn’t see that it was for an earlier show. Maybe I could get it wet. No, how would I explain why it was wet?
Maybe this wouldn’t work. The ticket ripper was probably the same guy all night. He’d know he hadn’t seen me come in before. He’d know for sure.
No, I was thinking too hard about this. When ordinary people walk back into a theater they don’t come up with a story about a smudged ticket or explain themselves at all.
I was trembling and starting to believe I didn’t even want to see The Breakfast Club again.
I looked around for something to calm my nerves, but I only saw the poster for the movie. Emilio Estevez, Molly Ringwald, and whoever played John Bender, the bad-boy character. What would John Bender do?
Try to look normal, Truman. Better than normal, be casual cool like John Bender. I took a deep breath, swung open the glass door, and walked straight past the ticket ripper.
He said, “Sir?”
Oh shit, I didn’t flash my ticket. What would John Bender do? I thrust the ticket stub into the air in the same motion he makes at the end of the film and just kept walking. Do forget about me, I willed.
The movie had already started, so I fumbled in the dark for a seat among a few other patrons. I should have picked a busier night. Any second now that guy was gonna come find me.
After five minutes, nobody came to grab me and throw me bodily out the door. I had done it! I had pulled off another scam.
After a few minutes of watching teenagers yammer I noticed I was too pumped-up to sit and watch The Breakfast Club. So I used the back exit.
Alive with power, I stepped out into the alley. The twilight gave everything a surreal hue. I breathed deep and I was so far above it all, I didn’t even mind the thick smell of alleyway garbage bins.
Besides, I also smelled fresh lobster cooking.
I followed that smell and a cacophony of kitchen noises into an open door across the alley. It was a restaurant kitchen.
Nobody noticed me walk in, so I grabbed an apron off the wall and tucked in my Oxford shirt. I looked like any other waiter. I hadn’t planned on playing a server tonight, but I was ready; I could have done this at a department store or a grocery store. Service industry clothes are pretty universal.
I passed the lobster tank and peeked into the dining room. If the cook staff saw me they didn’t say anything.
I saw a hostess seating a couple in the middle of the dining room. I tried to think of what John Bender would do in this prank. No. I thought of what Bill Murray would do.
When the hostess walked away, I rolled up my sleeves to match the other servers and grabbed two desserts from the fridge.
I walked straight to the new diners and started improvising, “Good evening and welcome to… our establishment. It’s Sweet Monday, so let me offer you these two slices of chocolate cake, on the house.” I placed the two dishes in front of my customers when…
“Truman!” one of my new customers said.
I almost choked. What would Bill Murray do? Nothing came to mind. I looked closer at the speaker. An older woman. I’d seen her before, but I had no idea she knew my name.
“Uh… Yes, that’s my name. Have we met?”
She just stammered. Then her date broke in, “We know your mother.”
“Truman?” A new voice. I turned to see a waitress. I knew her. We had class together. She was holding a writing pad like a professional. Clearly she had prepared for this role. I was just trying to get back my inner Bill Murray.
“Truman, I didn’t know you worked here.”
“Hi, Jennifer. Uh, yeah, I’ve only had a few shifts so far,” I had the distinct sense that my eyes were either too much open or too much closed, but I didn’t know which.
“But… this is my table,” said Jennifer.
“Uh…” Confidence, Truman. That’s how this works. Goof and agree. Bill Murray is my goof. Now just agree!
“Yeah, the boss said this was your table.” Now follow through. “But he also said you needed help. You’ve been kind of slow lately.” Then I loudly whispered to the couple, “She’s had her eye on one of the guys in the kitchen.”
I smiled back at Jennifer. This was the hardest goof and agree I’d ever been through. And I hadn’t even finished the follow through. I said, “I’m gonna call the boss, we’ll get this all straightened out. Or better yet, you call him, I’ll get these good people’s drink orders.”
She glanced toward the phone at the greeting desk and said, “I… am sure that you’re right. I’ll call him just to see what he thinks I should do.”
While she headed that way I turned to my customers. “Enjoy Free Cake Monday. And hey, happy anniversary!” I took a shot in the dark. It felt very Murray-like to tell people when their own wedding date was.
“Oh, yes, forty years of bliss!” I heard the wife call as I was hurrying into the kitchen. Wow, was I right? But then I heard her husband shush her. Weird.
I had engineered an escape, but I was falling apart inside. I wasn’t a con-man. And I wasn’t Bill Murray. I was just Truman, too useless to leave a two mile island, too stupid to stop a man from jumping to his death. I didn’t even know what Bill Murray would do at this point.
I stopped short next to the lobster tank. And that’s when I knew what Bill Murray would do. So I reached in and chose a pet. I could be Murray a little longer. Murray felt good.
But once I had this wet bug dripping salt water all over the floor, I looked at the other two. And there was an empty busser bin sitting so close by. I put my new friend in it and added the other lobsters and we all hurried out the back door. The kitchen staff watched it all in shock.
As we headed down the alley, I heard Jennifer call into the kitchen, “Have you seen Truman?” I never heard their answer.
I was three for three. And if you’re winning too much, it means you aren’t taking enough risks.
So I started thinking of things that would be riskier. I pulled a valet scam and a guy gave me his Mercedes. I brought my lobsters along. I pulled the wrong change trick again to score free firecrackers. I threw firecrackers out the car window into yards. I scared a dog with them. I consoled the dog. I convinced Officer Carmichael that the guy throwing firecrackers went “that way”. I adopted the dog into my mobile menagerie. I barked at strangers. It was the dog’s idea. I learned that the physics of cow tipping doesn’t work. I never took five minutes to think up a great idea. I just pretended to be Steve Martin, Robert Redford, Eddie Murphy…
After a few more adventures that were even less noteworthy than they were clever, I still had not been stopped. My dog had run off, so I thought it was time to set my lobsters free too.
It wasn’t until I turned the car east onto Gulf Boulevard that I realized what I was doing and felt the raw horror. I was driving beside the ocean. It had finally found me. As I drove east beside the beach, the moon’s grotesque, misshapen reflection chased me over the angry, black waves. I couldn’t tear my eyes away. I was just Truman again. My clammy hands gripped the steering wheel tighter.
I had felt powerful. I’d bluffed my way all around town, but I couldn’t bluff the Gulf of Mexico. Who could do such a thing? Nobody. Nobody could.
The memory of Bertrand Partridge’s tie mocked me.
Then I slammed into the airbag and everything went dark.
I didn’t pass out. Everything really went dark. It must have been a low speed impact, but the collision had knocked the street lights out. In fact, the whole neighborhood had gone dark.
A half moment later, blue and red lights cut through the night.
My door opened and Officer Carmichael shone a flashlight into my face. He said, “Truman, can you walk? Let’s get you some place where we can all get a good look at you.”
Now I know what he really meant.
I had seen the holding cells at the jail before, but always from the outside of the bars. On this side, it was like someone had gone out of their way to make it disgusting and damp. Now the early morning sun was casting dusty beams shaped like the bars in the single window. I gave up trying to sleep on the blood-stained bench I’d been laying on all night.
I went to look out the window. I spotted a billboard across the street that read Re-elect Mayor Harrison Snyder 2019.
Thoughts flooded back to me of the lobsters and the dog and the car. Then the nice couple in the restaurant. That woman had agreed that it was her anniversary. Forty years, she said. How did I get that right?
It would be funny if she was just joking. Just goofing and agreeing and following through.
That’s when Officer Linda Groupon startled me.
“Truman, you are so dense.”
I whirled around. “Linda! I’m so glad you’re here.”
“That’s Officer Groupon to you. And you shouldn’t be glad. Do you know what you did out there? I don’t think Mr. Amazon-Prime will ever stop complaining about the smell.” I couldn’t remember what I’d done that would make a smell.
“I’m sorry, Linda. I’ll make it up to Mr. Amazon-Prime. And I’ll replant his whole hedge!”
“That is just like you, Truman. You think you can fix everything with a little light work on a weekend,” Linda said.
“You don’t get it,” I blurted out, but I didn’t know what came next.
“No, you don’t get it, Truman. Do you know what would happen to me in your shoes? You’re behind steel bars. I’d be in a steel drawer. You’re so full of your privilege!” And she threw her arms in the air and took a deep breath. I think I heard her counting.
“I…” I couldn’t understand. “Privilege? I’m not privileged. I’m middle class! Have you seen the houses on the beach?” All in all it wasn’t the right thing to say to the person holding the jail keys.
“The beach! Jesus Christ, Truman, you’re so privileged you don’t even know enough to recognize privilege.” That was almost familiar. A dim light shone on a half-remembered page in my brain. But I lost it when she kept pushing, “You can get away with anything around here!”
“I think I would know if I was privileged, Linda!”
“No, Truman. You have no idea how much power you hold.” Linda sat down hard in a folding chair, making it scrape noisily on the linoleum. “You can’t act like this, Truman. People look up to you. We want good things for you. You… no, you just can’t understand. There’s just nothing in your experience to help you understand your privilege.”
That’s when my thought came back to me. If she was talking about some experience I didn’t have, then I was supposed to treat this as a golden opportunity. I hoped it would be useful. I took a breath.
“Why can’t I understand?” It was supposed to be inquisitive, but it sounded defiant.
Linda had her elbows propped on her knees and her head hanging over. Now she lifted her face to really look at me.
“How can I explain it to you if you don’t even have a starting point, Truman?” She leaned back and crossed her arms. That was a bad signal. I needed her on my side if I was going to get out of here. I swallowed hard.
“I do. I have a starting point. Everyone has a starting point. I’m just trying to…” No, Truman, get her on your side. Agree and follow through. And no goof this time.
I took another deep breath. “You’re right I don’t have the experience. But I have some experience. I can understand this. I could. Please. Just give me the first step. I want to cover the inferential distance to where you are.”
“I can’t explain all the privilege you have, Truman–”
“I just need to go step by step!” I panicked.
“Don’t interrupt if you want me to explain this,” Linda said. So I bit my lip.
“I can’t explain all the privilege you have. I just can’t. But here’s where I’m coming from.
“I grew up in the ghetto. I did not have a positive opinion of police officers. I saw officers beating a black man on the news when I was six years old. It wasn’t just that time. It was just that time someone had a video camera. I knew how the world was going to be for me. That’s when I knew life would not get better. And that’s how it is now, in 2019.”
I opened my mouth. I was going to say Seahaven Island isn’t like that. It has lots of black people. And anyway, how can you call me privileged by using the ghetto as a baseline? But I had grasped onto something rational for once, and I wasn’t going to panic again and lose it. I needed to cross this inferential distance. I stood at the bars and listened.
She continued, “So I grew up in a world that works a certain way. Then I’m grown and I start to see what white people get away with. Truman, you don’t want to call it privilege, but what else can it be? The world has rules and these people can just break them. They plain surprise me with the way they get away with things. Surprise me. That’s what you always say, ‘That would surprise me.’ Well, you gotta know the things that surprise me.”
“Like the way I acted last night…” I interjected and I dropped my gaze. I didn’t need to believe everything she said. It was the way she saw it, and I could at least meet her there.
“You sure as hell surprised me last night. But what you’re gonna get away with… well, I’ve always known that you could get away with a lot. But that’s just your own privilege. It’s more than white privilege.”
“More? Why?” Easy there, Truman. I took a deep breath. “I mean, thank you. Thank you for sharing your experience with me. It’s… I get it now.”
“No! No, you don’t get it, Truman. I told you all of that so you could understand why you don’t understand anything.
“Listen, I had to think for a long time when someone said I ought to take a role on… ought to become a police officer and go work in a little town in Florida. I hated cops. But I thought maybe this was my chance. Maybe this was the best thing I could do. To set an example here.
“You could do anything, Truman. You could…” She looked around and her eyes landed on the billboard outside my window. “You could be the dang mayor if you wanted.”
“But how can that possibly be true? I’m in jail!” is what I was going to say, but just then my mother burst in the door.
“That’s enough, Officer. I believe the chief was calling for you.” Mom was walking with an air of superiority. She had a blue clutch that matched her Sunday Best dress. She looked too important for this jail.
“Hello, Mrs. Burbank. I’ll head straight to the chief’s office,” Linda said. Then she turned to me, “Truman, I hope I see you again.” She sighed. Then she hugged me through the bars and walked out the doors toward the main offices of the police station.
I called after her, “What do you mean?” I asked my mom, “What was that about? What did she mean?”
“What, no hello for your mother? Truman, you look filthy. Well, no wonder after your little escapade. Is this really who you want to be, Truman? A ten-cent hoodlum with a library addiction?” One look in her eyes and I felt like gum on a shoe.
“I’m sorry, Mom. I don’t know what to do now.” I sat on the blood-stained bench, deflated.
“I’ll tell you what you’re going to do. You’re going to replant Mr. Amazon-Prime’s hedge.”
I looked up at her. “What?”
“And you’re going to take Mrs. Macy’s dog Corky to obedience classes until he recovers his nerves. And you’ll work odd jobs for Mr. Toshiba, the man you stole the car from. You have at least three busy weeks in front of you. On top of your studies.”
My mouth hung open. “That’s it? But Linda said–”
“Oh, I don’t think we’ll need to worry about Officer Groupon. We know the judge and a very good lawyer. I’m sure they’ll see that you were just under a lot of stress. Officer Groupon doesn’t have any say here. Besides, I don’t think she’ll be an officer for long.”
“She WHAT?!?” I jumped up to grab the bars.
“Truman, after the way she was in here berating you, I’m surprised you care.” My mother had taken out a compact mirror when she mentioned the judge and was now applying fresh lipstick for the show she planned to put on.
“She’s the best cop in this lousy town. They can’t fire her! What about… what about seniority? She’s been here for twelve years,” I said. I couldn’t let Linda get fired. She meant too much to the town. And to me. She had come in here to tough-love me into shape.
And she was here for a reason. This was her calling.
“Truman, she’s been dragging you along on murder cases, putting you in danger. You were attacked by Bertrand Partridge! It’s too much. Look at what it’s driven you to do.” Her jewelry clinked together as she gestured toward me.
So that’s what it was. They were going to pin it all on Linda. She had come to work hard and set a good example and now she would be dismissed in disgrace back to wherever she came from in California.
“Besides, if you want to talk about seniority, who has more seniority than the mayor? It was his idea. You can’t fight this, Truman.”
The mayor. I looked out the window at the stupid grin on the billboard. Re-elect Mayor Harrison Snyder 2019.
Mom thought I could get off the hook easy. Was I really as privileged as Linda thought? It didn’t feel true. But it sounded like Mom believed it, too.
You can’t spend your summers working as a waiter and come away with privilege. I had nothing. I usually felt powerless. But Linda knew things I lacked the experience to see. I let a vague hypothesis into my orbit. I Am Privileged.
If it was true, I should anticipate that Mom’s lawyer would get me off the hook.
I looked out at the billboard again.
“No, you’re wrong, Mom. And Linda’s right. I can fight this.”
God, I hoped Linda was right. Because that was the only way I could save her.
François Clemmons, who played Officer Clemmons on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, first said the words, “I grew up in the ghetto. I did not have a positive opinion of police officers.” It took a lot for him to agree to join Fred Rogers on his show, and the move is now considered ground-breaking. An event often cited as a big step forward in television was when he and Fred put their feet in a kiddie pool together on a hot day without any fuss, in a time when segregated pools were still the norm in much of the United States. Besides that he’s a very impressive person, and I’m glad to have his story as inspiration for Linda Groupon.
1. The Discrete Conspiracy
Truman Burbank doesn't know he lives in a TV show. Can his father's secret book set him free?
2. Making Beliefs Pay Rent
A murder in town exposes a crack in 18 year-old Truman's world. Can he use what he has learned to find the killer?
3. The Map is Not The Territory
10 year-old Truman’s mother gets rid of his book. Can he save the last link he has to his father?
4. Inferential Distances
21-year-old Truman is sick of the chaos. But does that justify a life of crime?
5. Loss Aversion
11-year-old Truman seeks the meaning of his father’s last words. Will his obsession ruin his friendships?
6. Politics Is The Mind-Killer
21-year-old Truman takes his grievances to the mayor. Can he fight City Hall?