Columnist Reported Writing Unsteadily



I’ve lived in Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Illinois, and Arizona — in that order — before coming to Massachusetts; but I’ve never lived anyplace that ran a police log in the local paper.

Until now.

To a newcomer, it’s a shock. You’ve chosen your new home, beautiful and historic Ipswich, assuming it’s quiet and peaceful. Idyllic, even. Then comes Thursday, and the Ipswich Chronicle — and there’s a full page of conflicts, problems, concerns, issues that families or neighbors couldn’t resolve without calling the cops. To someone who has never seen a police log before, it’s a nightmare. Column after column of clashes, arguments, suspicions, fears, and dead animals on Heartbreak Road.

I can see that publishing the police log serves an important purpose. It shows you your tax dollars at work. It shows you how safe you are here! It shows you, very clearly, the valuable humanitarian work of our police. Someone falls and can’t get up; in the police log you find a “lift assistance” entry. The police respond when an elderly person activates a lifeline unit. They do “well-being checks.” It’s all part of the small-town life. A reflection of the quality of life here. It’s good.

Imagine what police logs would be like in the places I’ve lived before. I shudder to think about a police log in the Chicago Tribune: “Severed head reported on E. 59th St.” “Noisy gunfire complaint on Western Ave.”

Here in Ipswich, we have “loose cow on Jeffrey’s Neck.” “Suspicious motor vehicle.” And “an unwanted person” who seems to reappear repeatedly.

And the less detail, the more ominous. “A sound was heard on Pine Street.” As you read the words, you can almost feel the dark vibration of cellos playing low notes under your floor. You can almost see the innocent victim-to-be, a slightly disheveled housewife, still in her apron, doing the dishes in her kitchen sink, stopping mid-scrape, frowning, cocking her head to one side: What was that? (The music intensifies.) “George?” she calls feebly. Her husband doesn’t answer. She knew he wouldn’t. He’s still on the train heading home. (The music throbs.) She turns toward the phone on the wall — she reaches for it — a dish crashes into the sink — she fumbles with the receiver — her jittery fingers press the buttons.

“Police! I heard a sound!”

“Where are you located, ma’am?”

“Pine Street!”

Maybe it was only a raccoon scavenging out back. Maybe it was nothing but an old section of gutter finally giving up and falling in the side yard. But now — now — all the terror of the moment, all the dread, flows out of that kitchen on Pine Street … and into my mailbox. There it is, in the police log. In my Chronicle. In my hands. In my head. I’ll never escape it. The next time I hear a sound — What was that? — my defenses will be weak. I won’t be brave. I won’t open my door, look around, discover that it’s just the neighbor’s teenager making out with his girlfriend behind my garage. No. I’ll reach for the phone. I’ll break a dish. I’ll call for help. And my own private moment of horror will be a matter of public record. In the archives, forever. Which is perhaps the greatest nightmare of all.

Forget your Kindle. Cancel your Netflix membership. You don’t need any of that stuff — because every Thursday, you’re going to get this strange, this bizarre, this inscrutable hometown thrill.

I would subscribe to The Chronicle for the police log alone.



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