A Simple Desultory Menippic


“Do you know why I pulled you over?” the cop asked.

The Inquisitor’s question. It’s never a good sign. Aviator mirrorshades. Handlebar mustache. Because of course he would. Establishing the right script is important at a time like this. It sets up the roles. It’s also a Stanley Milgram thing: To establish dominance, get the victim to see you not as a human, but as a force of nature.

I hadn’t the slightest idea why he’d pulled me over. But I was pretty sure it couldn’t have been speeding. Joggers rarely speed.

“No sir,” I said.

“I’m going to ask you to step over here. I’m going to give you a breathalyzer test.”

“But I’m sober. And, uh, I was jogging.”

“That’s what they all say. Here, blow into the tube.”

I did. The numbers shimmered on the little display and settled down: 0.0000000000001 BAC.

“Like I said, I’m sober. Am I free to go?”

“This state has a zero tolerance policy,” said the cop.

“Zero tolerance for drunks. But I’m not drunk.”

“Zero tolerance means we only tolerate zero.”

“And you don’t tolerate anything else?”


“Was it the Gatorade?”

“You should be more careful with that stuff, you know.”

“What are you going to do to me?”

“We’ll start by impounding your car. Asset forfeiture.”

“But I don’t have a car. I was only out jogging.”

“A likely story. What do you call that?” asked the cop. He raised his arm and pointed roughly behind me.

I turned, and there it was: my car. No doubt about it – the make, model, and license plate. Even the scratched driver’s side mirror.

Behind the car, a ramp was rising on a flatbed truck. The truck’s driver gunned the engine.

“You just brought that here. This is absurd.”

“It’s your word against mine,” said the cop. “Who’s a judge going to trust?”

“Look, you’ve clearly got a system here where you can just arbitrarily arrest anyone at all. That can’t be right.”

“You voted for it, didn’t you?”




“Do you vote at all?”


“Well then, you gave up your right to complain.”

“So if I vote for it, I can’t complain. And if I vote against it, I can’t complain. And if I didn’t vote, I can’t complain?”

“Democracy’s got its problems,” the cop said piously, “but it’s better than anything else.” Then he looked at his tablet.

“Oh,” he said. “And your NSA file.” His jaw grew slack.

“The NSA? What do they have to do with it?”

“I’m not allowed to tell you.”

“But I haven’t done anything wrong.”

“Then it shouldn’t matter what it says in your file. Nothing to hide, right?”

“Are you going to arrest me?”

“I can’t just let you back out on the street, can I? So yeah, you’re under arrest.” And then the handcuffs. Of course.

But then I realized that something was really, really wrong here: He hadn’t read me my rights. Was that a part of zero tolerance too? Ignorance of the law is no defense, I recalled, unless you are a cop. Maybe it was nothing to bother with after all.

And then I realized that something else was wrong. Way, way wrong. The cop had pulled me over. I had seen him in my rear view mirror. I guess I hadn’t been jogging.

The cop smiled. “We took a vote,” he said.

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32 thoughts on “A Simple Desultory Menippic

  1. It wasn’t in the dictionary, so I had to Google “definition + menippic” and I still didn’t get a definition.

    You stumped Google, Jason. I didn’t think that was even possible any more.


    • Menippean satire. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menippean_satire

      “The genre of Menippean satire is a form of satire, usually in prose, which has a length and structure similar to a novel and is characterized by attacking mental attitudes instead of specific individuals. Other features found in Menippean satire are different forms of parody and mythological burlesque, a critique of the myths inherited from traditional culture, a rhapsodic nature, a fragmented narrative, the combination of many different targets, and the rapid moving between styles and points of view.”

      Essentially all of my fiction is Menippean, albeit short, with only one or two that don’t quite fit the bill. I changed it here to echo a song title, of course.


  2. This is why you never talk to cops. And never call them “sir”. That suggests that they are higher in status than you. They aren’t. They are your employees.


      • Most civil servants do face consequences for bad behaviour; for example, there are investigations and losses of office for even fairly minor conflicts of interest.

        Cops are the exception, not the rule, with the danger from them being intensified because they and the military are the only agents of government authorized to use physical force.


      • The way the wealthy and powerful can do the same (e.g. the Pinkertons having been used as a private military to crush the labor movement, or more recently the Koch brothers using private goons to prevent a reporter from “infiltrating” one of their meetings) is one of the reasons I would distrust a purely libertarian state.


      • I don’t see civil servants getting punished (facing criminal charges or bearing the cost personally) for bad behavior very often. And usually when I do, it’s for glaring misconduct that can’t be hidden & makes superiors or the organization look bad.

        And the rare times when a civil suit succeeds & the victims are awarded damages, the money comes from taxpayers, and the guilty usually continue on in the current, or even a new position.

        As for the pure libertarian state Mike imagines I dream of, I don’t. What I want is merely equality under the law.

        As for private security keeping reporters out of private meetings… your point is?


      • Do you recall the incident? A reporter who had paid for a room at the hotel where the meeting was taking place was informed that he needed to leave the place, with “or else” strongly implied.


      • An example of the gummint doing such:


        “Scott – You have our sincere apologies for the lack of a better hold room today,” wrote Vice President Biden spokeswoman Elizabeth Alexander last Wednesday to Orlando Sentinel reporter Scott Powers. “Lack of a better hold room” is an interesting way of putting it. In order to keep Powers from mingling with guests at a Democratic fundraiser last Wednesday, Powers was escorted into a storage closet by a Biden staffer.

        At least the gummint apologized.


      • I read the story. The reporter was covering a Biden fundraiser held at a private home, where “cover” means he gets to listen to Biden’s talk, but not to interview or mingle with the ones giving the money, for instance to find out what they think they’re buying. This is fine with him. It’s S.O.P. What he’s upset about is that while he was waiting for Biden to show up, he had to wait in a small room with the use of one chair and a table, instead of a nicer one with more comfortable furniture. (“Closet” makes it a better story, but even with half of it full of stuff, there was space for a table and a chair. It sounds like one of those walk-in closets that we less affluent call “living rooms”.) This is exactly what Jefferson meant when he called a free press the guardians of liberty. Sure, they’ll talk to who they’re told to talk to and go where they’re told to go, but they’ll do it sitting on something upholstered. Because that’s freedom.


      • Do you recall the incident? A reporter who had paid for a room at the hotel where the meeting was taking place was informed that he needed to leave the place, with “or else” strongly implied.

        Lee Fang? As he himself said, he had booked a room for the night before, and then was asked to leave the next morning, because the entire hotel was booked for the meeting that day. I would assume, since he didn’t say otherwise, that this was after checkout time, at which point the hotel management was well within its rights to ask him to leave.

        And Jesus, those comments! You guys drive me nuts sometimes, but every time I read the comments at a straight-up lefty site, I’m reminded to be thankful for what I have.


      • I arrived at the hotel the night before the event, but was followed closely by security and asked to leave the next morning before the Koch meeting guests arrived.

        Yeah, that’s a perfectly normal way for a hotel to treat a paying guest. God knows I’ve never dared to hang around a hotel after I checked out to sit by the pool or have a drink or two.

        At any rate, as I recall it (I think it was a different reporter), he wasn’t asked to leave by hotel management, he was told to leave by one of the Koch’s “security” thugs.


  3. “We’ll start by impounding your car. Asset forfeiture.”

    “But I don’t have a car. I was only out jogging.”

    Not so far fetched. I was ticketed once for riding my bicycle the wrong way down a one way street, a d although you don’t need a license to ride a bike it put points on my (car) driving record.


    • I was once ticketed for parking facing the wrong way. The ticket read “More than 18 inches from the curb”, presumably on the grounds that I was several yards away from the *other* curb.


      • Depends on how the code was written. It’s possible it was something along the lines of “the right side wheels can be no more than 18? from the curb”

        That would tempt me to park on the wrong side of the street…mostly on the sidewalk.

        Or argue in court that left and right are relative directions. Those _were_ my right wheels, my car was actually facing the other way, it’s just that the seats in my car are aimed backwards.

        Granted, if my car was ‘built that way’, they could ticket me for having all sorts of problems with my car, like no license plants on the back and no rearview mirror and and no headlights (Has anyone ever thought to make backwards driver seats illegal?) and all sorts of things wrong, and also for driving in reverse down the street. But they didn’t actually _give_ me those tickets at the time, and can hardly give me tickets now for behavior then, so tough luck.

        I have a feeling that argument would not actually work in court.


  4. If you’re being intimidated by a single police officer, ask to see his badge. Write down his name and badge number. When he asks why, tell him he hasn’t heard the last from you or your lawyer. Look him square in the eye, tell him he’s wrong on the facts and you consider his behaviour objectionable. Either he minds his manners or you intend to file a report with the police chief at the earliest possible opportunity.

    This will get his attention. Civilians are supposed to be deferential. Cops get used to it. They’re not sure how to treat someone who pushes back politely but firmly.

    Do not allow a policeman to intimidate you. Be rigorously polite. Do not appear to resist his questions. He’s not going to have a word with the DA on your behalf because you Came Clean. He will lie to you, every chance he gets, the law allows him to lie. Do not lie to him but inform him in as bland a manner as possible that you will answer all his questions in due time — but first things are first, get the badge number and the name. They have to give you that much information. It will set them back on their heels. And it will keep them guessing.


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