Jae the Cop

I was walking through a large tech store in Philadelphia, waiting to meet a friend for an impromptu lunch. I had my laptop in a case under one arm, and while I was standing near the front of the store looking for my friend, someone came up behind me and grabbed it, playfully pulling it away from me. My weird-o-meter immediately began going off.

I turned around, and saw something unexpected: a smiling police officer tugging at my arm and laptop case. He wasn't a store security guard but an actual city cop with a gun and everything. His nametag read “Jhai” and he looked at me and said, “Sal! How are you DOOOIIING?!” He was super happy to see me, which made me feel that much worse because I didn’t recognize the guy at all.

Even though I didn’t know this cop, I quickly remembered that twenty years earlier I had an acquaintance named Jae who’d joined the police force. It was all my brain could think of to connect the two things, so I said, “Hey - Jae, how are you?”

It wasn’t Jae, though it took me a few more seconds to make that realization. And by the time I figured out that this cop believed that I was someone else, I expected that he’d come to the same conclusion that I did - but that didn’t happen. Even after hearing my voice and seeing me animated from multiple angles, he kept thinking I was his old buddy Sal.

“Remember me from the hotel?” Jhai asked. I nodded and said “Oh yeah,” quickly adopting a weak Philly accent.

“Are you still the manager there?” Jhai asked. I smiled and mumbled something that sounded halfway between agreement and denial. I didn’t want to get caught in a lie - and plus, I really didn’t want to disappoint this guy. He was so happy to see Sal again after what felt like too long.

He kept looking me over, like, “I can’t believe it’s you after all these years!” What was I going to do - burst his bubble? Sal would never do that.

Now, I had just watched “The Talented Mister Ripley” a few weeks earlier, so maybe I was primed for this, but I kept up the charade for a good ten minutes. I asked Jhai how he'd been, how long it had been since we’d seen each other, what was new with him - that kind of thing. I almost asked him if he’d become a cop since I last saw him, but I stopped myself because it seemed like one of those questions that Tom Ripley might ask once he was feeling super confident, only to give himself away. Surely Jhai had been a cop back when we used to see each other. “We probably used to chat while he was walking his beat,” I thought, feeling like a highly-skilled profiler.

This went on a little longer, with Jhai giggling and smiling the whole time. He never suspected I wasn’t Sal. And he was really excited to see his old pal - they must have been close for a while, and Jhai missed seeing him. He kept looking me over, like, “I can’t believe it’s you after all these years!” What was I going to do - burst his bubble? Sal would never do that. Besides - he was a cop who had grabbed a civilian while he was on the job. People had seen us and were now watching our emotional reunion. It felt too dangerous to break the spell and tell Jhai the truth. He probably would have cuffed me and taken me down to his precinct or whatever it is city cops do to impersonators of their old acquaintances.

Eventually I looked at my phone and said I had to meet a friend (the truth). I told Jhai how great it was to see him again and said I’d try to stop back at the store sometime soon. Maybe I will - just to mess with him.