It was a Friday morning in Minneapolis and I was hungover. Cotton balls replaced my brain and my eyes were bright cherry red. Yet instead of nursing my self-inflicted wounds with water and a bedside omelette, I was on a bike lurching towards Saint Mary’s University.
I had a hard time saying no to my impulses. I liked to think my early 20s were about making up for teenage perfectionism, that in some way I was allowed mistakes because I had avoided them for so long. It’s easy to live without regrets at barely 22.
My bike rode east as the rising sun stood off in an epic war with my pupils. Sunglasses would have been helpful, but buying those required planning and a willingness to spend more than $20 on something. Sweat leaked out from under my pink baseball cap, though I couldn’t tell if it was from the exercise or the alcohol. Chicago Avenue then Park then Portland.
“What right-leaning, Glenn Beck loving Patriots don’t get is that the death penalty is expensive as all get out.”
The voice was coming from behind me. It was distant, but zooming up fast.
“It costs the state more than 4 million by the time a criminal croaks. The process takes years. This good versus evil moral bullshit just distracts from the death penalty’s outrageous costs.”
It was a soft voice, despite the jarring early morning subject matter, belonging to a liberal riding a purple fixie. On your left was almost a mumble, a compulsory civic duty rather than an actual heads-up.
“I mean, yeah, it’s awful to kill a criminal with like rat poison, but the criminal probably killed people, too. So do they deserve it? I don’t know, morality is hard to talk about. But money, if we talked about money, that’s an argument conservatives could hear.”
The 20-something, in a roomy summer suit, sped past me. His headphone dangled out of one ear as he continued his conversation about the death penalty, even though Minnesota hadn’t seen it in over a century. As he became a smaller and smaller blob I saw a shiny lit screen and heard him say:
“Shit, man. This Candy Crush level is so fucking hard.”
And then he was gone.
This man was a millennial idol. He managed to do three things at once, all while being environmentally friendly, connected to the matrix of the internet and above all, politically engaged. He spoke in ‘likes’ and swore like a sailor, and yet his light suit made of summery fabrics suggested he had one of the few full-time, well-paying jobs available to the millennial class.
This man — we’ll call him Arthur — probably worked for an architecture firm, specializing in environmental design or something with the word “urban” or “public” in its definition. Or maybe he worked on Betsy Hodges’ political campaign, or was finishing up the final year of his graphic design MFA.
Whatever the reality, I was certain Arthur was the type of son my father would have enjoyed having. Arthur looked like he knew something about golf, he probably went to bed at a reasonable hour, and he definitely didn’t spend the night drinking a bottle and a half of Rosé while talking to 34 year olds on Grindr.
I wasn’t heading to the University for a class — I was going to Saint Mary’s to be a child. Eccentric jobs were one of the few pluses to getting an Acting degree, and I was about to sit in front of a classroom of policemen and role play as a molested 5 year old named Harry.
A burlesque dancer got me into the job. I was performing with her in a queer performance festival when she approached me:
“You look like a baby. Want a weird gig?”
She explained how she got cheques from a not-for-profit to develop characters based on molested children. I’d heard of these jobs before, of people pretending to be sick for doctors or hurt for lawyers. But I’d never imagined a person would get paid to role play as a tween touched by a chomo. I was wrong.
The Star Tribune interviewed me about this odd job a few months back. I had waited for the journalist’s call for days, excited to post something on my Facebook that might garner more than 25 likes. When the article came out, I was only given two quotes. One, where I described the experience as “definitely kind of icky and dark,” and two, where I explained how my character was based on past personal experiences. This came as a surprise even to me, because while I’d had many odd sexual experiences, child molestation was definitely not one of them.
I had created two characters for the organization. The first was a 14 year old boy named Ben. He went to an arts high school in Saint Paul and got a little too friendly with his 22 year old photography mentor. My second was a 5 year old named Harry. Harry was an affluent 5 year old that lived on Lake Harriet, and he might have been touched at daycare by a teenager named Tom.
Walking into a room of nervous policemen, dressed in tight shorts that showcased my recent glute work, I couldn’t help but feel I was entering a room filled with johns. They nervously fumbled with paperwork, anxious over the task ahead. A level of exhibitionism was inherent in the exercise, and some seemed more familiar with it than others. A few of them had shiny round heads, most were a little sweaty, but they all had guns on one side of their hips. My brain was overloaded with guns of the physical variety, when I realized all their eyes were on me: Little Harry.
“Just sit right over here. Was it — Harry?”
I looked into his face for the first time. It was perfect, cheekbones cut with blonde scruff framing brown almond eyes. Thick lips and approachable teeth. I paused. He smiled.
“Yes. I’m… Hawwy.”
Harry couldn’t pronounce his “R’s”. To be honest, I couldn’t really either.
“Do you have a name?” I asked, already stepping off script.
He blushed. I blushed. His blush turned his strawberry blonde accented face to a rosy glow. My blush made me look like I had rosacea.
“Jim. It’s nice to meet you Harry.”
Jim the Cop. I started imagining the engagement pictures on Facebook. He’d stand strong and in uniform, holding me just so that my veil would lightly graze the ground. A small police dog would tug at the virginal white lace playfully. We’d have a careless, upper middle class giggle on our faces.
“Now Harry, do you know why your mommy brought you in to see me today?”
Oh yes, the business.
“I don’t know. Mommy just said to talk to the ‘cute police officer.’” This was definitely not on script, but I heard my boss stifle a laugh in the corner.
Jim laughed, too. Green light.
“Well, your Mommy must have good taste.”
The way he looked in my eyes made me think Mommy meant Me. I titled my head to the side, smiling as my hair fell to the left, showcasing my neck I would imagine him kissing.
“What do you like to do in your free time, Harry?”
I wanted to say You, but proceeded with the normal script:
“My Daddy has an iPad that I play with. We play Angwy Buhds. And we take walks around the lakes. And I like playing with dogs.”
This script came off with a characteristic cuteness I’d memorized by rote. But all I cared about in my hungover haze was Jim. What did Jim like doing? Did he like boys? Do you bring up Ferguson on your first date with a policeman?
“What do YOU like to play with?”
I swirled around on my interrogation rollie chair to hide my shit-eating grin. Another blush from Jim as he moved his head so the cameras couldn’t see — Was that a wink? I stopped mid-spin.
“Well, Harry. I like going out to new restaurants, and protecting people.”
My soul died, went to Heaven, was turned away, and was reborn as a rising glitter phoenix. Holy shit, was Jim the Cop hitting on me?
We continued the interview, going over the trained steps. He had me draw a picture of myself on a white board to build rapport. Harry couldn’t reach the top of the paper so I asked Jim to help guide my hand. A first touch. He had sweaty palms. I liked that.
After the rapport building we moved on to the sticky stuff.
“What type of touches do you receive at daycare, Harry?”
A touch inquiry. This was where I was supposed to slowly reveal the “icky and dark” things.
“No, not hugs, Harry. Do you ever receive touches that are… bad touches? Do you know what a bad touch is, Harry?”
I was willing to show him a bad touch if he wanted.
“Daddy said when Tom touched me in the potty, that was a bad touch.”
Bingo. The molestation was named, and it was a quick downhill roll in neutral to the end of the interview. All we had to do was get through an uncomfortable period where both of us repeated the word “peepee” more than is reasonable for adult men.
The policemen are trained to ask more rapport-building questions at the end of an interview. They know the interrogation is over, but this is a formality to make sure the children feel comfortable, and not like they just sent a man to life in jail.
“Do you have any questions for me, Harry?
Did I ever.
“Do you have a girlfwend?”
This was inappropriate, but I was banking on the fact that 5 year olds are usually inappropriate.
“No.” He smiled widely, picking up the hairpin I’d dropped. “Do you have any more questions?”
“Not wight now…”
Jim did the standard closeout by writing his name on a card. This was typical, in case the child had any questions or needed to call an authority figure. But then, after signing the “M” of his name, he began writing 6… 1… 2…
A phone number.
I exited the classroom as “Fernando” played in my head — the low, mystical part with the wind instruments. Was I going on a date with Jim the Cop? He had the blonde facial hair and Scandinavian build that was exclusive to a rarefied group of midwesterners. I was sure he was 5 to 10 years my senior, but I had come to learn that once you graduate college the range of dateable ages inflames like your debt.
I pushed my rising jock strap into my short shorts as Jim entered the hallway.
Where did this shout come from? Not my Jim.
I stared in blank confusion as Jim came in for a double high five. We stood for a moment, suspended under our manly show of affection. His palms were no longer sweaty. Our warm blushes had been replaced by the dry air conditioning of an early Minnesota heat wave.
“That was some weird fuckin’ shit. Amiright?”
The charming, friendly interrogation Jim had been replaced by a grass-fed frat boy. My face crinkled in a way that I’m sure looked constipated, but I didn’t care anymore — my Jim was gone, just another story to tell people at parties.
“Yeah, it was… some weird fuckin’ shit.”
I grabbed my bag and ghosted out of the room, mid-conversation, the way I did to men I didn’t care for at gay bars.
I couldn’t help but think my father would have liked a policeman for a son-in-law. Maybe they’d talk about Rush Limbaugh together without a cringe of sarcasm. But, like Jim, that was only a fantasy.
The men I liked were always distant, emotionally crippled, or straight. Romantic encounters ending in double high-fives and pats on the back. I would learn how to avoid this, how to find available and mutually interested men attractive, but not on that Friday. That was a lesson for a different Friday.
Instead, I pulled out a business card that read JIM, smiled, and tucked it in my shirt pocket. There was a pleasure in being young and confused, when your options feel as open as the greenway and your only responsibility is remembering to change your underwear.