Seely Goes Home: Perplexity On The Street

Before we ran into Seely and her dad on Fourteenth Street and arrested him, except Seely wasn’t really quite her name, Dave Goodridge and I chatted about how he got out of the projects of south Brooklyn and became a sergeant in the Metropolitan Police. Goodridge is an athletic black guy old enough to have spent eighteen years on the force. Good guy, strong opinions on most things and, to understate the case, street smart.

Athletics, he said. He was real good at track and things, and focused so much on sports that he didn’t have time to get into trouble. And he had parents who didn’t put up with that stuff. As in seriously, wish-you-hadn’t-been-born didn’t put up with it. Amen, sez me.

Anyway we stopped to help another cop on Fourteenth who had pulled over a ramshackle car. The driver was a black guy, maybe in his thirties, with lots of frizzy hair and a green-and-yellow knit cap. He was guilty of the heinous crime of driving without having bothered to get a license. It was cold, cop lights flashed, and pedestrians wandered past.

The driver was waving his arms in the driver’s seat and hollering partly in English and partly in I wasn’t sure what. He wasn’t hostile, just agitated. In fact, he was real emotional, and was crying, as in genuine tears. Part of the problem was the little girl in the back, also crying. His daughter. What was going to happen to her? He was all she had.

It turns out that he had been arrested the day before, for the same reason. He just wasn’t going to go through the formality of getting a license. In practice that probably meant he was an illegal. The little girl, named something like Seely, was chubby with kid pudge and had a nice maroon kerchief around her hair. She sobbed and sobbed because they were going to take Daddy away.

Which they were. They didn’t have a lot of choice. You can’t just ignore the law repeatedly or there won’t be any law. He was also going to be released in a couple of hours, driving without a license not really being in a category with the Manson murders. Goodridge put his arm around Seely and explained that nothing bad was going to happen. She explained to Daddy, who was by now standing behind the car.

“Daddy, daddy, they not gonna keep you. You gonna get out.”

Still, it was tough for a kid of seven.

What to do with Seely? The cops tried to reassure her, found out from Daddy where Mommy, divorced from Dad, lived but with no phone. OK, said Goodridge, we’ll take her to her Mom, and if Mom isn’t home, we’ll bring her to the station to wait for you.

So we drove to Mom’s three-story building, talking with Seely who was one sweet kid, and Seely hollered at the top window, but Mommy didn’t hear so Goodridge tapped on a window and got someone to let us in and we knocked on Mommy’s door, which had a picture of Haile Selassie on it. The Seelys were Rastas.

Mom was a pretty and friendly woman and very concerned because something bad had happened to her daughter, except nothing had. I don’t know what she was cooking, but I wanted a big plate of it. Goodridge explained what was going on and said it was no big deal, but Dad really ought to get a license or it would in all likelihood keep going on. Seely was all smiles now and showed me her school papers taped to the back of the door. “One hundred,” she said with pride and an accent. “One hundred here too, and this says Super. See?”

I saw. Having daughters myself, I understood the importance of girl children, and especially the importance of getting good grades if you were a black Jamaican kid in the DC schools. So I told her she was doing splendidly and don’t ever stop and reflected that Congress would do us all a favor if it gave her daddy a green card and a driver’s license.

As we were leaving, Seely ran to a box and gave us a jelly bean each. Mommy was reassured, the kid was fine, and Goodridge had to go chase murderers and low-lifes.

On the stairs I said, “Reckon if we hung around a while she’d ask us to dinner?”

He laughed. “It sure did smell good, didn’t it?” The night was cold. We got into the cruiser.

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