An Un-funny Police Academy Story
In my 23 years, I had probably asked more than 100 women out. At least half of them either said “no” flat out or else ignored me
Most people see the “Police Academy” movies and laugh. I went through the real Police Academy, and felt nothing but pain.
It started in May or so of 1975 when the CETA program, a long-defunct government jobs program, announced that it was hiring people who had some college education. It was the middle of a recession, and I remember standing on a long, long line that went around the block. People from every phase of my life were there: elementary school, junior high school, high school, college. Janet Rosen, tall, dark-haired and beautiful, whom I was “in love with” in the sixth grade, was there. I said hello to her, but she showed no more interest now than she did then.
Eventually, I reached the job counselor, a young Hispanic guy not much older than myself. For whatever reason, he referred me to a CETA-funded job as a Police Administrative Assistant, a civilian in a police station who does administrative work. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted for my long-term future, but it would be a good summer job before I went back to school in September for journalism.
Before we started work, I learned, I and the other CETA workers who were assigned to the NYPD had to take a two-week orientation class at the Police Academy. It seemed like there were 100 people there—most of them young, middle-class kids in their twenties like myself, although there were some exceptions. There was one guy in his thirties from Bay Ridge, who kept talking loudly to an older couple from Staten Island who used to live in Brooklyn, exclaiming, “I’ll show you the real Brooklyn!” and rattling off the names of a half-dozen Italian restaurants. This guy bragged about how much of a practicing Catholic he was and often put down minorities and Jews, although he assured me, “You’re cool!” There was also a middle-aged black couple from suburban Queens, who once, when seeing an ad in the Daily News for the Drifters, who were playing a revival show, joked, “Why don’t we get them for our school prom!” But mainly, it was us kids.
The first day of class, we had to submit to a medical exam and fill out some forms. One question I wasn’t sure to tell the truth – “Have you ever gone to a psychiatrist?” I had been sent to a psychiatrist as a child and had kept seeing him, although less frequently, through high school. If I had followed my better instincts, I would have just said “no.” But my mother had drummed it into me so many times that if I lie on an official questionnaire, “THEY’LL find out!!!” that I checked off yes, although I also wrote that I had gone to him only as a child and added in, “don’t have any serious problems.” Still, the mere fact that I checked “yes” was to have negative repercussions in the future.
Our instructor was a police captain, originally from Boston, who explained the types of tasks we would do in the police station or at the department’s administrative offices, and especially how not to step on the police officers’ toes. He was very intelligent, but punctuated whatever information he gave us with risqué jokes, jokes I got tired of after awhile.
Because so many of the Police Administrative Assistants-to-be were young, college-educated, middle-class kids, there were lots of girls around as well as guys. As a matter of fact, I hadn’t been around so many young women at one time and in one place since I had graduated SUNY Binghamton the previous year. In my 23 years, I had probably asked more than 100 women out. At least half of them either said “no” flat out or else ignored me. Of the other half, many of them displayed some enthusiasm or interest at the beginning, then suddenly became turned off to me for no apparent reason. With others, I had one or two dates, but it fizzled out after then, usually because I had a hard time trying to think of things to say to them. That left me with only two real relationships, one of which lasted six months and the other two months, and two semi-relationships that lasted longer but were largely unsatisfactory. Maybe now would be my golden opportunity.
Well, it seemed like most of the guys who were in the PAA class, being typical 20-somethings, had the same idea I had. My first targets were two recent grads from Long Island, both Jewish, both self-confident, well-dressed and well-spoken with fabulous figures. It seemed like every day another pair of guys was trying to speak to them or trying to meet them from lunch. I quickly crossed them off my list.
Next, I tried to make time with Ellen Persky, a heavy-set, olive-skinned girl with long dark hair who lived near me in Co-op City. She wore long skirts and handmade jewelry and had a somewhat mysterious appearance. She was older, about 28 or 29. I talked to her a few times, but then when I asked her to get together, she said, “Well, I’m not sure if I’m ready to deal with people like you at this time.” I froze. People like me? Did she mean people who lived with their parents? Hell, SHE lived at home with her parents! Did she mean people who were nervous and anxious, as I secretly knew myself to be? Did she mean people who weren’t ultra-hippies like her, who hadn’t hitchhiked across country at 16 and bummed through Europe at 18? I stewed inside, but said nothing. A year later, I saw her at a Co-op City Express Bus stop. She told me she was moving to Puerto Rico. “What will you do there?” I asked. “Either I’ll find a job, or I’ll find a rich man to take care of me!” God bless her, I thought.
Back to the Police Academy. My next target was an exotic, pale-skinned, blue-eyed blonde who was an immigrant from Czechoslovakia. I sat next to her in the cafeteria. “Can I talk to you?” I asked. Her answer was short and not sweet: “No!”
Well, the class was well into its second week, and all the best girls were either taken or in the process of being taken. In desperation, I thought of what I had learned in the singles lecture that I had taken at the 92nd Street Y: That there’s nothing wrong with approaching a girl in a public place and trying to talk to her. I went out to a pizza place at lunch, and saw a girl in a business suit and wearing glasses at a table. Summoning up all my courage, I timidly approached her and asked if I could sit there. She nodded. I nervously started talking about the CETA program, the Police Administrative Assistant position and the training class. When I asked her a couple of questions, she answered in one-syllable answers and had a sour expression on her face. I got the message and excused myself.