Many years would pass before Doug was fully able to comprehend the true implications of what had occurred in his first grade classroom that autumn morning. At the time, he had been blissfully unaware of any dark motive lurking behind the whole facade. Even the cheerful and big bosomed Miss Reid likely suspected nothing. At least, not at first.
Formally, the event was titled ‘Bring Your Parent to School Day,’ an opportunity for all of the kids to share with their peers what it was their parents did for a living. Informally, at least in part, it was almost certainly a nefarious intel gathering operation undertaken by the Turlock Police Department. Statistically speaking, in a town like Turlock, there was a probable chance that, at the very least, the first grade classroom at Crowell Elementary contained seven or eight future criminals.
But, more on that later.
At any rate, even without considering the sinister angle, the entire event was still a gross display of class inequality, complete with all the stigma and baggage that go along with such distinctions. For example, one kid’s old man might be a highly respected and well-to-do business executive while another’s might be collecting unemployment after being laid off from his latest gig sweating a deep-fryer. Still others were products of broken homes, with single moms struggling to get their child off to school each day with a sack lunch. Kids, even those as young as Doug and his classmates, despite not grasping the underlying causes, were not blind to such blatant inequalities. And because they didn’t understand the subtleties behind them, they could be cruel to their less fortunate peers. The pressure on child and parent alike was, in many cases, simply unfair. Doug, of course, was as ignorant of this socio-economic aspect as he was about the looming preemptive strike by the police department against a class full of unsuspecting children.
But, so it was in those days.
Anyhow, it went something like this: Each student’s father and/or mother would line up in the back of the classroom, awkwardly awaiting their turn, in alphabetical order by last name. The student would be forced to come to the front and announce to the class the name of their parent and what she or he did for a living. A scattering of light applause would follow and said parent would then join their child at the front and briefly tell the students what it meant to be a car salesman, baker, janitor, administrative assistant, whatever. Some, with exotic job titles such as ‘paralegal’ or ‘financial consultant,’ would utilize the chalkboard in a (usually) vain attempt to somehow illustrate what their work entailed. The audience was largely a room full of first-graders, after all.
Doug was excited because, as far as he was concerned, his dad had the coolest job of any parent in the entire school. He certainly wouldn’t need a stupid chalkboard to explain what he did. His old man was a cop, and everybody knew what that was. Even Miss Reid seemed to see things Doug’s way, because, despite his last name occurring very near the beginning of the alphabet, his father’s presentation was slated for last, like a grand finale or something.
Doug tried not to glance over his shoulder too much, lest he betray his excitement. When he did risk a peek, his father would either offer the barest hint of a smile or a conspiratorial wink. For the most part, though, he just stood there still and silent, utterly composed. He was decked out in a crisp and clean blue police uniform, complete with a badge, various patches, and insignia. Only Doug knew that the uniform was on loan and merely for theatrics. Being a detective, his father no longer even owned one. But a little showmanship never hurt anyone. Besides, truth be told, Doug hadn’t the slightest idea what the difference between a regular cop and a detective cop was. And he was reasonably certain none of his classmates did either. So the uniform was a nice and unexpected touch.
Unlike the other parents, Doug’s father did not merely stand there talking about what a day in the life of his job was like. Instead, he gave all the kids a little demonstration. With a well practiced flick of the wrist, he had his cuffs out and secured around Miss Reid’s wrists in a matter of seconds.
The kids, at first startled into silence, suddenly erupted in laughter and applause. Miss Reid turned about as red as her hair and even made a little bow after she was set free. The little smile and nod she gave to her captor told Doug this fake arrest hadn’t been as spontaneous as he had initially believed.
Regardless of its authenticity, the performance was such a hit that a field trip was scheduled soon thereafter. The entire class, permission slips in hand, shuffled onto the school bus and headed down to the Turlock Police Department. Once inside, Doug’s old man made another appearance, showcasing many of the rooms and explaining the function of each.
Most of it Doug had seen before. Over here was the lunch room, over there reception, this is where suspects are asked questions, that’s the evidence room where things taken from criminals like guns, switchblades, throwing stars, drugs, and stuff like that was locked up tight. Finally, though, the class was led to the jail itself, tucked away in the basement out of sight of the more common areas. Doug alone knew it wasn’t the real jail, which was up in Modesto, but rather what his father called a ‘drunk tank.’ But he kept that secret to himself, as it would have only ruined the fun.
Doug noticed Miss Reid give his dad another one of those little smiles, which he acknowledged with a wink. Doug figured, what with all the smiling and winking, the two were probably friends outside of school. That made sense because everyone seemed to like his dad.
Fortunately, the cell was empty, so the kids all got to take turns locking one another inside. After ten or fifteen minutes of this Ms. Reid said they were running short on time and had to wrap it up. As the class all filed up the stairwell, Doug’s dad, who led the group, suddenly stopped and turned around, announcing that he had forgotten to show them all one of the most important things cops must do when they bring in the bad guys off the streets.
Naturally, a couple students asked what that might be, but Doug’s father would say no more. Even Miss Reid seemed at a loss, tilting her head in apparent confusion. As for Doug himself, he was just as much in the dark as all the rest.
To the disappointment of everyone, they arrived, not in some dark and spooky interrogation room filled with hard shadows and lit by a single swinging bulb, as some of the boys had quietly speculated, but rather at the front reception desk, at the exact spot they had begun.
At a nod from his father, the officer on desk duty produced a stack of rectangular white cards, about half the size of a sheet of paper. Next to these he set a dirty and scuffed up pad of dark ink.
“I’m not sure about this,” Miss Reid said, pressing through the throng of students to make her way to the counter. Doug’s father placed a hand on her shoulder and gave it a reassuring little squeeze, explaining that it was all part of the demonstration and nothing to be concerned about. After all, was not the whole point of the field trip to show the kids what it was like to be a cop? Well, booking suspects was a big part of that.
Miss Reid frowned but remained silent, slowly melting back into the crowd of students as they pushed forward and around her to get a better view.
“Okay then,” the desk officer said, smiling and rubbing his palms briskly together in a way that seemed rather forced. “Who wants to go first? Any volunteers?”
Jose, a relatively new kid who had transferred from Osborne School over on the west side of town, was volunteered by the boys to either side of him and nudged forward toward the counter. Once there, the desk officer gripped the child’s index finger and firmly rolled the tip back and forth over the cushion of ink and, from there, onto one of five small squared off sections marked on the card. He repeated this with each finger and both thumbs. To make it “official,” Jose was then told to fill out his name and date of birth at the top. Finally, he was given a small hand wipe stinking of alcohol with which to scrub his purple-black fingers. With a thumbs up and pat on the back from the desk officer, he was promptly returned to the crowd.
This process was repeated until every student had their card printed and filled out. A woman then came forward, grabbed the stack, and disappeared into an adjacent room. Though the blinds were shut, Doug could see the bright band of light flash under the door and hear the clunk and whir of what was clearly a copy machine. After fifteen minutes or so she returned, placing the stack of cards right back where she’d gotten them.
Doug’s father held the cards up and waved them over his head , asking the class if they’d like to take them home as souvenirs. The kids, of course, were delighted. Aside from the prints, each card came with a really cool and official looking Turlock Police Department logo stamped on the lower right corner.
On the way back to the school, many of the kids huddled together at the back of the bus, comparing the whorls and curves of each other’s prints, fruitlessly arguing who had the coolest patterns. The whole experience was all the kids talked about for the next two or three days before interest began to wane. By the end of the week, they had moved on to other things and the entire field trip was more or less forgotten.
Forgotten by the kids, at least. Back at the station, meticulous care was taken to ensure that the events of that day might live on indefinitely. A copy of each child’s card was filed away alphabetically, safe and secure in the basement where such things were kept until, many years hence, they might again see the light of day.