There were lots of reasons why Greeno should not have had an open bottle of Rolling Rock in his hand, as he walked down the sidewalk along Mirror Lake with a couple of his pals. Being on the sidewalk was one of the reasons. He was nineteen, and it was broad daylight – a bit before noon, in fact – those were a couple more.
He was on the OSU campus and it was Earth Day, which was a big deal in the nineties. He was headed over to a concert in one of the auditoriums, over at Independence Hall, and beer seemed to go well with the idea of a concert, and so they’d brought some beer along, in their pockets.
Greeno wore jeans and black tennis shoes, and an earthy poncho with a deep front pocket. He’d brought three bottles of beer with him in the front pocket of the poncho – even though he knew all of the reasons why he shouldn’t – and then his rationalization for doing so anyway, well, it sort of naturally extended itself to popping one open.
On Earth Day, for some reason, the cops would let an awful lot slide; there were little clusters of hippies everywhere. Some of them were kicking hacky sacks around, and some of them were not. But Greeno knew, the cops weren’t going to let him stroll around with an open beer like he owned the place or anything, so he kept his eyes peeled, and perfected a method of disappearing the whole bottle into his baggy sleeve.
Sure, you might look at him and think, where’s that guy’s hand, but Greeno didn’t think you could get arrested for that, and he was right.
But as his pals continued along Mirror Lake, Greeno didn’t like how wide open the terrain became. It didn’t seem possible to keep an effective eye out in every direction, so he peeled off from his group, taking a set of steps up into the trees, knowing that it would put him back in the path of his gang in a minute or two.
The guys either didn’t notice he had done it, or knew where he’d end up, or didn’t care. Greeno watched them as they slid out of view, thinking that he could explain himself to any one of them with just a single second of eye contact, but then they were gone. Well, no worries.
Greeno turned back to watch where he was going, and nearly ran into a cop.
It was the chubby kind of cop, with the Hitchcock profile, and he was sweating even though it was a cool April day. His skin flushed, one hand grasping a metal stair rail, the cop was five steps above Greeno, and the two of them took a second or two to size each other up. In that frozen moment, Greeno got a really sharp image of the guy seeing the open beer in his hand, and then shaking his face, not quite believing it. Then confirming it, and raising his eyes to Greeno’s.
Greeno thought two things: there is no way this guy can catch me, and there is no way this guy will shoot me.
So he let out a quick, almost apologetic sigh with a shrug attached to it, and then he ran.
Back down the stairs, he sprang like a bunny or a deer, along Mirror Lake. Past his buddies, who heard his feet pounding the sidewalk and only had time to tilt their heads a little behind them before they heard him whispering, “You don’t know me. You don’t know me. You don’t know me.”
A relatively common sort of thing, for Greeno to be doing, so they stopped knowing him instantly.
It sure was wide open over here, just like he’d expected. Greeno formed a quick plan, which was get to Independence Hall, and then merge with whatever crowd was there. Lose the beer and the pancho, buy a concert tee shirt. He knew one of the bands, maybe get off campus by crouching in their van when they left.
The breathing and the footsteps behind him sounded like a washing machine with the lid up. And there was a crackle of static – a radio. The guy was talking into a radio.
Now’s the time you decide, Greeno thought, and he decided. Dropped his chin, eyes forward, he started swinging his arms as he let loose into a full-blown sprint, straight across two lawn areas with chains surrounding them. You weren’t supposed to stay off of them – there were people on blankets and everything, throwing Frisbees – but the chains were up, just the same.
Greeno was young. He flew effortlessly over the chains, dodging dogs and hacky sacks and still holding the open beer, almost empty but foaming over his hand, while the other two tinkled and bonked together in his poncho.
Four sets of chains, almost feeling bad about it because there was no way that big cop back there could have caught him on level ground, but with the chains to leap over, Greeno was able to dogleg to the left, completely out of sight of the guy, and then through a few sets of shrubs, where he ditched the open bottle and the two others, in the deep weeds.
Then he emerged on Neil Avenue, taking a second to look around, see if anyone was staring or pointing. A car went by with an old dude and his daughter in it, craning their necks at something, but not at him. And a blonde student, with Greek letters on her sweatshirt, locking up a bike, also ignoring him.
Greeno thought, maybe lose the pancho right now, just start strolling along, maybe he could walk right out of here if he could keep himself straight, not look guilty. But he had long hair – that was going to make him stand out. They’d check every white guy with long hair, no matter what he was wearing.
He caught movement to his left, back down Neil toward Mirror Lake, and swung his head that way, and there was the big cop, a good two hundred yards away, but gesturing suddenly, yelling into the radio, bumbling this way.
Not sure if he was busted or not, Greeno elected to bolt anyway, turning and barreling straight north, toward the Main Library, weaving through clusters of bushes and secluded park benches, shaded by elms. When he was almost past the library, he hooked around to the side of it, and leaned his back against a wide concrete pillar, wondering if he could pull off nonchalance, with his blood pounding.
The cop was the opposite of a ninja – Greeno could hear his breathing and his footsteps approaching, even before he could hear the crackle of the radio. He’d seen a lot of movies, and knew there was a chance he could pull this off, if he could hug this pillar just right, as the cop passed, slide completely silently around the corner just as the radio and the breathing and the footsteps reached the opposite corner…
He’d have to hold his breath, and didn’t know if he could, and he watched the ground, seeing where to step, where the weeds would rustle, where the ground was soft.
And he made his move just a little too carefully or just a little too late. The cop was ready for it, was watching for it, and he looked really angry with Greeno as he put his hand on his belt – not on his gun, but on a can of pepper spray – and said, “Get your hands on the wall there.”
Greeno was on the verge of simply running again. He knew he could lose the cop by running over the chains again, but it was the radio that bothered him.
A campus cop car jumped right over the curb and parked in the grass in front of them. Then a second later, two more pulled up, stopping at the curb. The first couple of cops who got out, they also looked angry, and it looked like they could catch him even if he were on a bike.
So Greeno turned around and put his palms against the concrete pillar, hearing a fourth car pull up – this one in the grass again. They had the whole force after him, he realized, and had to stifle a giggle.
The cop was still breathing hard as he patted Greeno down, but Greeno didn’t have anything on him anymore, nothing illegal. “Where’s your beer?” The cop wanted to know.
Greeno knew how to play some poker. He dropped his face into absolute neutral, and then matched his voice to it and said, “What beer?”
In the years to come, Greeno would long for a digital recording of the noise the cop made. A very frustrated, tired sort of honking noise.
The voice of a female cop said, “I can smell it. I can smell beer on him.”
The original cop took the wallet out of Greeno’s pocket, started helping himself to the driver license.
“I had some beer back at my apartment,” Greeno told the concrete.
They were all voices to him now, standing in a circle behind him.
“He was just walking around in broad daylight, right in front of me.”
“I can smell it, too.”
“Look at this, he’s nineteen.”
“And he was just what? Walking around?”
Now a square-jawed cop with his hat still on, and little eyes, leaned into Greeno’s face and said, “You’re nineteen, where’d you get the beer? We can smell the beer.”
Greeno’s mouth made the words while his eyes watched the wall in front of him. “There were some guys over last night, at my house for a party. They accidentally left it in my fridge, and today, I drank two of them in my living room, without calling them to ask.” A quickly but carefully constructed description of perfectly legal things.
“Oh, my God,” one of them blurted out.
“He had a beer in his hand.”
“Where did he dump it? Did you see where he dumped it??
“This kid ran all over the place, I bet a mile. It could be anywhere.”
“Hey!” Said the one in Greeno’s face. “Where’d you dump the beer?”
“Didn’t have any beer out here.” He even glanced at the guy, and then theatrically looked around in the air between them, looking for any beer floating around. There wasn’t any.
“Then why’d he run?”
“Yeah, why’d you run, then?”
And of course, the guy in his face had to say it again, “Why’d you run from him, if you weren’t doing anything wrong?”
Greeno, finding it easier and easier – the straight face – said, “I didn’t know he was chasing me. I was just out running, shooting the stairs. Had no idea he was after me.”
He didn’t know what it meant to shoot the stairs, but he thought that it meant, run up and down them.
And now there erupted a chorus of honks and profanity and frustration in general.
They told Greeno to stay right there, while they all retreated to a car except the guy in his face, who stayed in his face, asking rhetorical questions like, “You think you’re pretty smart? You think this is funny? This funny to you?”
But Greeno knew not to answer any questions like that, even though yes, he was starting to feel kind of smart, and yes, he was certain that this was getting pretty funny. And for a few minutes he stood there not answering or giggling or anything, while an angry man asked him rhetorical questions, and an entire squad of campus police officers ran his name through the system, trying to figure out anything they could arrest him for.
Somehow, Greeno had no criminal record whatsoever. Standing there trying to figure out if he had one or not, Greeno was more than a little bit surprised.
And no one, not even the two people they called on cell phones, describing the problem, could come up with anything to charge him with.
So fifteen minutes later, he had his wallet and his hands back in his pockets, and a small gang of cops were scolding him in a very general way, and issuing him some kind of Super Warning, which they said meant he would go “straight to jail” if he ever did anything to bother a cop again, for the next hundred years.
A few minutes later, he sat down next to his buddies at Independence Hall, which turned out to be a decent concert, and on the way home, they swung by the bushes to pick up his last two beers, and also the empty one, because it was Earth Day, and he didn’t want to leave it lying around.