Joining the Force
One day I arrived at the MP station and saw a new announcement tacked up on the bulletin board. It was notifying everyone that, with the War in Vietnam winding down, nonessential personnel with only a few months left in the Army would be mustered out early. The Army needed to save money.
Previously in this series: “MPs on the Job! Richard Lugar, Part II”
I paid no attention to this. If there was ever an essential personnel, that was me. As far as I was concerned, the 226th MP Company would fall apart entirely if I took a day off.
Or so I thought. A few days later, I received orders that I’d be mustered out in just a few weeks.
I was happy to be out of the Army and away from the lunacy at the MP company, but now I was stranded in central Indiana, where I knew not a single human being. Both the local and national economies were in dismal shape. How was I going to find a job?
Every day I responded to virtually every help wanted ad in the local newspapers, no matter what sort of job it was. Slinging hay bales? Why not? Light housekeeping? You bet! But I didn’t get hired and rarely even got an interview.
Then one day I came across an ad placed by Wasson’s department store seeking a truck driver to deliver furniture and mattresses all over central Indiana. That ad had my name written all over it!
I’d driven a truck in high school and during college summer vacations, and had also driven a truck earlier in my Army career before I became a cop. I still had my truck driver’s license. I called and got an interview at 3:00 p.m. that afternoon.
The interview was in the Wasson truck depot, way over in a bad part of town, and the guy I was to see had a glassed-in office on the mezzanine level of the depot. I knocked on his door by way of opening it, stuck my head inside, and said, “Hi, I’m here for the interview!”
The guy, a little fellow with a big nose, didn’t even look up from his desk, where he had a newspaper spread out. He slowly licked his thumb and turned a page of the newspaper, then said, still without looking up at me, “Job’s filled, kid. Beat it.”
I slunk off thinking I’d just set a new Guinness Book of Records for the World’s Shortest Job Interview. A lady who was a clerk in the depot had seen the interaction and said to me, “Don’t mind him, he’s been a jerk since he came out of the womb.”
I shrugged and said, “It’s not just that. I’ve been looking for a job for weeks and haven’t even had a nibble.”
“Is that what you do, driving truck?”
“I guess, but I’ve spent the last two years as an MP.”
She stopped and frowned at me. “MP?” she said. “Why don’t you apply for the Indianapolis cops? I know they’re hiring. My cousin’s at kindergarten now.”
Kindergarten, I knew, was what the cops called police academy. But I was staring at her, dumbfounded. I’d been a military cop for two years and yet it had never once occurred to me that I could be a civilian cop.
As soon as got home, I called IPD and learned that they were hiring, and if you were a trained MP, you could skip kindergarten. That was important because, not only did you not get paid while you were in police academy, you had to pay them. But as a trained MP, you just took the exam, and if you passed you were in. I did and I was.
After some on-site training and an orientation period, I was assigned to a squad car with a jerk named Sgt. Halligan, whom I quickly renamed Sgt. Hooligan. Hooligan didn’t like rookie cops, he didn’t like MPs, he didn’t like college boys, and he didn’t like people who weren’t native Hoosiers. I filled all the bills.
Hooligan was brutal to me all day long, and that was bad enough inside the squad car. One day, though, at the end of our shift, we’d parked the car in the motor pool and climbed out. And right there, in front of half a dozen other cops, Hooligan referred to me by a name no man would tolerate. My temper was already at the breaking point and now I snapped.
I grabbed Hooligan by his shirt front and slammed him against the cement block wall of the motor pool. In another 10 seconds Hooligan would have been in several pieces and I would have been off the force — a “90-day wonder,” as the cops called guys like that. Fortunately, the other cops pulled me off him.
After that Hooligan kept his mouth shut around me, but he hated me even more.
But then one morning an extraordinary piece of luck came my way — making up, I decided, for all the horrible luck I’d had over the past two years since I’d gotten drafted out of the middle of law school.
That morning at roll call, Hooligan and I had been told to drive over to a local high school where the principal was expecting trouble. Maybe a cop car parked in front of the school would intimidate the kids into behaving themselves.
We started down the stairs toward our squad car, but Hooligan stopped and, looking at the piece of paper in his hand, said, “What the hell is this?”
The paper told us to drive over to “Northeast High School” and report to principal so-and-so. But as a native Hoosier, Hooligan knew there was no such high school; the dispatcher had screwed up. (Turned out he meant “Northwest High School.)
While Hooligan went downstairs to straighten the matter out, I returned to the muster room, poured myself a cup of horrible coffee and leaned against a desk, drinking it. A few minutes later, the captain’s door opened and he peered out, looking all around. No one was there except me. The captain waved me over and my life was about to change.
Next in this series: “Surprising the Mayor: Richard Lugar, Part IV”