April 24, 2012 7 Comments
Adoption requires, among other things, a background check. A background check requires, among other things, finger prints. To get your fingers printed you need to go to a precinct house. And so our story begins.
I left work a bit before lunch anticipating a noontime rush for fingerprinting at the police station. I no longer know why that made sense to me but at the time it seemed as obvious as the line at the deli counter. I was working in the Bronx and the 50th Precinct was within walking distance just beyond the bank. That was fortuitous as you need to have a certified check to pay for fingerprinting, at least if you haven’t been caught doing something illegal. I’m not certain but I do believe if you’ve been caught engaging in law breaking activities, fingerprinting is offered free of charge.
I arrived just before twelve, self satisfied with the accuracy of my prediction. There was no one ahead of me needing fingerprinting. “Great, I beat the rush” I thought. As it turns out, police stations share very little in common with retail establishments and the crowd never did materialize. I walked to the desk. It is not exactly like a hotel check in and it is not so much like a grocery checkout but it does suggest these things. I explain that I need my fingers printed and the desk…. Sergeant? tells me that I need to call in advance to see if anyone is available to do that. I explain casually, so as not to alarm anyone, that my wife called and was told that I could stop by between ten and two and it wouldn’t be a problem. Of course even as I am saying this I know it is futile to disagree with a cop. They don’t give an inch and frankly I don’t think they can afford to. Part of an officer’s job is the projection of power which is achieved through control and confidence. Haggling is not the big stick in the police repertoire.
The officer responds that I will have to call. I maintain my pleasantness, which is no chore as I like cops anyway, and say “OK, can I borrow a pen and do you know the number off hand?” She is a not unpleasant looking blonde with a medium large frame and strong breasts. She has a mole in the left crease of her nose and I am having a little trouble maintaining my friendly face while trying not to stare at it. Ordinarily I am not given to staring but for some reason, in her case, I am willing to make an exception. Rather then give me a pen (a show of weakness?) she takes the manila envelope I’m holding, with the fingerprinting sheets inside and begins to write the phone number on it.
Somehow the envelope is right side up and as she finishes writing the phone number I see something subtle happen. It is ever so slight but I see it before she speaks. It is a relaxation of the muscles in her shoulders and arms and I know she has seen the return address. Of course she has, because these kinds of details are fascinating to everyone but especially to those who make there living gathering clues. She looks up at me and says “Is this for adoption?” I respond that it is and she tells me to wait a moment and she’ll get her partner to fingerprint me. She goes over to his desk and leans over and says a few words in his ear. He looks up and gives me a friendly nod. She returns and tells me that he’ll take care of it but it might take him a little while because he’s in the middle of something.
It doesn’t. Within a very few minutes he’s processing the papers, taking the check for seventeen dollars (fifteen for the first set and a buck for each of the following two) and rolling out the ink as if he were going to print a wood block. He tells me that there are automatic fingerprinting machines or scanners or some such thing but they have not made it up to the Bronx yet. We chat amiably and I am aware of the intimacy of all this. Fingerprinting is choreographed hand holding and since this is not the first step toward incarceration it is relaxed and friendly and instructive.
While he is fingerprinting me I hear someone talking to the desk sergeant. She is back at the desk and no more than eight feet away. It is a man and he has come to get his fingers printed. It is obviously for immigration reasons and she tells him that he will need to call in advance to make sure that someone is available. There is no one available today. I am reminded once again that it is good to be me. We finish up and they let me go into the officers bathroom to wash up, unescorted. When I return my cop has finished filling out the forms and I thank him and he shakes my hand and wishes me good luck. I return to the desk sergeant and thank her very much and she says she hopes it works out. I assure her that it will. Her tone is both respectful and genuine; her look is caring. I think she must be a mother. As I walk back to work I feel like a different person inside and I admit to myself that their approval feels good. Not just good but that in some way my wife and I are undertaking a thing which they approve of and that we are good in their eyes and that we are in some way bonded in their company; the company of do gooders.