I may have been the first one to notice him in the doorway. I had just stopped by for a quick drink; I only knew one other person in the room; I still had on the requisite plaid button-down I had worn in the A&A library. These things made it feel inappropriate to point out that there was a cop in the room, or anyway halfway in the room. During the awkward moment between his arrival and the hush of realization, I watched him poised there like a bemused newcomer scanning the room for the friend of a friend who had texted “yeah, its not so bad, come. you can have a beer.”
The officer asked whose room it was, and the called-for individual stepped forward. The rest of us assumed the silence of school children in penance. Is this your room? he asked the host again. Yes, sir. Is this your alcohol? Yes, sir. How old are you? Twenty, sir. No, sir, not everyone, sir. Sorry, sir. Yes, sir, we will sir, we’ll do it right away sir.
I marveled at his deference. Was it real? There was not the tiniest trace of irony in those “sirs.” He didn’t say them the way they say “sir” in the military; he said them passively, quietly.
Another officer proceeded with the business of teaching us a lesson, collecting IDs and calling us forward one by one to take down information. A few weeks later my friend told me she hadn’t really given the officer her ID. She had just shuffled around and acted like she had already done it. She felt terrible. Some of the other people at the party had had to speak with the dean, and she was debating turning herself in.
“Are you insane?” I asked her.
“I know. That’s what my parents said.”
Which drink, I wondered, would she report? The half bottle of Mike’s Hard at the party? The bottle of red wine we’d shared the Friday after? Could she report herself for the contingent crime of being in this suite instead of that one? This was when I realized that the quotidian animosity between underage co-ed and lightly chastising authority figure is actually an issue fraught with moral complexity.
As the police took out their notepads, I stood with my arms crossed and tried to look neutral. One girl by the window covered her mouth, as if she could press the tears back that way. Later, the others wondered in whispers if “they” would tell her coach, if “they” would report it to ExComm.
“Dana?” asked the note-taking officer.
“Your phone number?”
I gave it to him slowly and distinctly. After a moment I asked, “Can I ask why you are taking my information?” I tried to sound very, very reasonable.
“You don’t know why I’m taking your information?”
“You don’t know what you did wrong?”
“I don’t,” I said. I tried to sound dispassionate, even though I could tell he thought I was being contrary. I was pissing him off. He raised his head from his clipboard, his voice rising just a little.
“How old are you?”
“Twenty-one.” I tried not to sound triumphant because around me everyone else was having his and her name taken down with no weapon to brandish. The note-taking officer fumbled. He almost said “Oh—”, and he put down his pencil.
The officer standing in the the doorway interrupted him. He smiled and informed us that “this” would be happening a lot more often now — what with the Harvard-Yale game incident “due to alcohol” and all the sexual misconduct on campus. He reminded us that he had been twenty once.
Later the police report would say that “all units left the scene without incident,” and I remember wondering as I stood there if he was trying to provoke one, if he was preaching because he knew it was making our blood boil. I wanted to say that the Harvard-Yale incident was not alcohol-related, as far as investigations have shown. I was insulted by his invocation of sexual misconduct, as if it were something people accidentally slipped into when there was too much drinking in the air. I wanted to ask if he had looked in on any of the other hundred or so parties I knew to be taking place at that very moment.
I wanted desperately to correct the officer, but next to me my friend squeezed my arm, telling me to leave it be. And I did, because it was not my party, because I was twenty-one and not everyone else was, and because I knew if you don’t say “sir” you can end up somewhere you don’t want to be.
When they left we were not sure what to do. We milled about and debated whether the door had been open, whether this mattered. Someone wondered if it was true that they would be doing “this” more often. The Yale Police have neither confirmed nor denied the “crack down” on underage drinking. But there was that crew party two weeks ago, and that birthday party in Saybrook. And Feb Club — don’t the cops keep shutting down Feb Club? It felt like we should go to sleep, but it was only 10:30.
As I walked home and thought about how I should have reacted, I confronted the fact that it’s an utterly intractable problem. There are immutable facts. Underage drinking is against the law. The Yale Police uphold the law. Therefore the Yale Police will forever break up parties where 18-year-olds drink Dubra from red solo cups. And God knows in the interest of safety we could not wish it any other way.
On the other hand, Yale students will never stop drinking — it is too tightly woven into the social fabric of the campus. The whole premise of a “crackdown” seems tragically ill-fated, like trying to fill a bath tub that drains faster than the water runs. In short we are forever destined to circle around one another, students and police, in an untenable opposition that luckily is not an issue 95 percent of the time.
Until the one night when it is an issue, and the justification “everybody does it” seems right but sounds childish, and you have to decide whether or not to swallow self-righteousness, keep your head down, and take Yale’s slap on the wrist. Most people do, only you cannot think too much if you decide that. You cannot wonder if there’s another reason they are there, if maybe they think we are entitled, and if maybe we are entitled. You shouldn’t think about whether it is wrong to pander to authority you disagree with just to stay out of trouble. You shouldn’t ask what it means that the officer was twenty once. You shouldn’t wonder what it is exactly you are supposed to learn, or what it is you are going to do differently.