The Curmudgeon’s Brush With the Law

The Curmudgeon can be a bit of a paradox.  On one hand, his thinking tends to be not so much outside the box as it is contemptuous of the box.  On the other hand, he is in some respects highly conventional.  He is, for example, an inveterate rule-follower:  he completes his tax returns simply and without artifice, sees his dentist every six months like clockwork, and drives within the speed limit (often, to the chagrin of his passengers).  While his memory doesn’t go back far enough for him to be certain, he thinks it’s a pretty safe bet that in his younger years he most definitely colored within the lines.

So it was very unusual, to say the least, that one week ago today he was sitting on the beach in Brigantine, New Jersey, surrounded by police vehicles and girding for a tense confrontation between law enforcement officials and a certain bald, pudgy, fifty-four-year-old curmudgeon with an awkward gait that’s sometimes mistaken for a limp.

What led to this moment – a moment that to all appearances looked as if it would lead to The Curmudgeon being led off to the big house in flip-flops and handcuffs?

It all began twenty-four hours earlier, and it began because of The Curmudgeon’s curmudgeonly rule-following side.  Most of the beach towns along the southern New Jersey shore require visitors to purchase and display beach tags whenever they step onto the sands.  Rule-follower that he is, The Curmudgeon purchases a badge for the entire season the first time he visits Brigantine, his beach town of choice.  The pass is well-used:  he visits the town every two or three weeks for a few hours from mid-May through late October and also spends one or two weeks there a year on vacation.  He gets his money’s worth from his badge, and he dutifully shows it every time the college girls who constitute the Brigantine beach tag patrol ask to see it.

On this particular Wednesday, however, as The Curmudgeon was showing his tag to one beach badge co-ed, another was having a more difficult time with two middle-aged women about seventy-five feet away.  They clearly did not have badges and were trying to talk their way out of either purchasing tags or being asked to leave the beach.  The Curmudgeon looked on with great interest, and he did so in a manner that unmistakably caught the attention of the failing beach badge girl.  This contributed to her discomfort:  not only was she failing with the law-breaking women but she also had become acutely aware that someone was closely observing her ineptitude.  Eventually she despaired over both, refused to look up at The Curmudgeon as he eyed her, and walked away in defeat.  As she departed, the two women could not prevent themselves from laughing aloud; The Curmudgeon thought it unlikely that the humiliated teenager failed to hear their laughter.

Fast forward twenty-four hours and The Curmudgeon was back on the beach and the same inept beach tag checker approached him.  He first showed the checker his badge and then inquired about the previous day’s confrontation with the two women who’d been permitted to break the law with impunity.  She immediately knew exactly what The Curmudgeon was talking about and was embarrassed as she explained that it’s the town’s policy not to eject people from the beach if they fail to produce beach tags.

Why should anyone purchase a beach tag, The Curmudgeon then asked, if they know they won’t be ejected from the beach if they don’t have one?  That’s the policy, the beach tag checker explained.  The Curmudgeon then asked the question again:  why should he buy a tag when all he needs is a marginally plausible story about how he left it at home or in his car – or that the dog ate it (sorry, old homework excuses die hard)?  Whenever you let someone stay on the beach without a tag, he suggested, aren’t you essentially making fools out of those of us who were suckers and played by the rules?

At this point, instead of just walking away, beach badge girl walked back toward The Curmudgeon and told him that his questioning constituted harassment and that she was calling her supervisor; every time he tried to speak, she aggressively spoke over him and shut him down.  She and her partner stepped away while The Curmudgeon finished planting his umbrella in the sand, took a seat, and opened the August edition of The Atlantic (an article explaining how difficult it still is for women to “have it all” written by a woman who’s had enough for any five women).

The beach tag duo idled about 100 feet behind The Curmudgeon while they awaited their supervisor’s arrival.  The supervisor must’ve been busy flirting with the lifeguards, though, because she apparently was nowhere to be found.  While awaiting the seemingly inevitable confrontation – ten minutes had already passed – The Curmudgeon walked down to the water to wet his feet; that’s as wet as he ever gets at the beach.  He then returned to his sand chair; still no supervisor.

After about another five minutes The Curmudgeon could no longer resist the temptation to turn around to see what was going on – or if they were still even there, since it seemed entirely plausible that upon hearing her charges’ sad story, their supervisor might very well tell them to grow a pair and get back to work – and when he did, he counted not one and not two but three police vehicles congregated behind him:  two beach patrol vehicles and a Brigantine police car.  Another five minutes passed, after which the beach tag girls’ supervisor – a “lieutenant” (who knew a beach tag patrol would be organized according to a military model?) – approached The Curmudgeon.

She was clearly spoiling for a fight.  She asked what the problem was and The Curmudgeon suggested that since she’d already spent a good deal of time with her charges, she knew perfectly well what the issue was and that The Curmudgeon had already spoken his piece on the matter.  She told The Curmudgeon that he was wrong and that he had mistreated her girls.  The Curmudgeon reiterated his basic contention:  that if the beach tag patrol lacked the ability or the will to enforce the beach tag rule, there was no reason for anyone ever to buy a tag.  She was dissatisfied with the conversation and departed – but only after abusing her authority by asking to see The Curmudgeon’s beach tag, which her charges had already viewed and which she surely knew.

While all this was transpiring, the arrival of the Brigantine wing of the New Jersey National Guard and the multiple cross-examinations of a solitary beachgoer were attracting an audience.  Between interrogations, some in that audience, assuming that the problem was The Curmudgeon’s refusal to produce a beach tag, offered him theirs to help him combat the evil beach fuzz.

Another five minutes passed, and when The Curmudgeon again could no longer resist turning around to check out the fleet behind him, he found that the fleet had grown:  it now consisted of four vehicles.  It looked like The Curmudgeon was about to be read his rights and hauled off to the hoosegow.

Yet another five minutes passed, and now it was the police officer’s turn.  When he asked what the problem was, The Curmudgeon suggested that the officer needed to ask that question of the beach tag team that had apparently summoned him about the dangerous criminal who had invaded their sands.

During this conversation, The Curmudgeon remained seated in his sand chair.  Consequently, the officer towered over him.  At this point, The Curmudgeon decided to throw a new wrinkle into the conversation, suggesting that the addition of the police officer and the fourth police vehicle amounted to a clear attempt to intimidate The Curmudgeon.

“Do you think I’m trying to intimidate you?” the officer asked.

“Well, you’re the guy standing six feet from me with a gun on your hip,” The Curmudgeon replied.  After yet another brief conversation during which the officer asked to see The Curmudgeon’s beach tag yet gave no indication of what he was even doing on the beach – did they think The Curmudgeon posed a threat to the public safety or was planning to steal some sand? – he asked The Curmudgeon if he had any identification on him.  When informed that he did not – when The Curmudgeon is staying in town, the only things he brings to the beach are his keys, his cell phone, and, well, his beach tag.  With nothing left to ask, and probably more than a little annoyed both by The Curmudgeon and the helpless beach tag girls who had summoned him because their feelings had been hurt, the officer left to rejoin his squadron.

But it still wasn’t over.

After yet another five-minute wait – didn’t any of these people have anything more important to do? –  The Curmudgeon was approached by yet another authority figure:  a Brigantine “summer police officer” who was a criminal justice major who had just finished two years at a community college and will be entering a local college in the fall.  Blessedly, he lacked a gun, although he did have a baton and something else on his belt that looked like some kind of weapon.  Like his predecessor, he asked to see The Curmudgeon’s beach tag, and since The Curmudgeon had no ID with him (and was thinking about all those movies set in France:  “Your papers, sir?” the gendarme would always ask), he demanded contact information:  name, address, phone number.  Why?  Because The Curmudgeon was “going into the system.”

Ooooooooooh, just like on Hill Street Blues.

Even now, The Curmudgeon still has no idea who was in the fourth vehicle.  Assuming vehicle number one was Lieutenant Nasty, number two was Sheriff Andy Taylor, and number three was Deputy Barney Fife, who was in vehicle number four?  The captain of the beach tag patrol?  The colonel of the beach tag patrol?  The mayor?  David Hasselhoff?  Dog, the bounty hunter?

It was an interesting adventure.  The Curmudgeon made what he feels is a valid point, he ran the risk of going to jail – he stood up for the principle, mom! ­– and he met some nice and not-so-nice people:  the beach tag girls were just dumb kids, their lieutenant is going to be the dean of women at a girls boarding school when (if?) she grows up – think Beulah Balbricker from the movie Porky’s – and all things considered, the police officer and the officer in training seemed like pretty good guys who were good at their jobs.  The spectators on the beach were pretty great, too.

But The Curmudgeon isn’t quite done.  On Monday he called the police department to get a copy of the police report.  That will be another ordeal:  they have to mail him a form requesting the report, he has to return it, and only then will they send him a copy.  Why does he want it?  Because several people among the spectators captured some of the multiple interrogations with their cell phones, so The Curmudgeon will consult with counsel to explore whether his rough treatment at the hands of the town’s authorities – treatment inspired by his simple observation that a beach tag girl was pretty bad at her job – is going to enable him own a piece of the Brigantine beach, or maybe a small beach-block condo, in the near future.

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • Scott  On August 23, 2012 at 10:10 am

    Such a troublemaker! 🙂 If my taxes go up, I’ll know who to blame. I’ll check the Brigantine Times this weekend to see if this is the cover story. This may be the biggest thing to happen since my neighbor rescued the drowning cockatoo!

  • foureyedcurmudgeon  On August 23, 2012 at 10:22 am

    If they can afford to send four vehicles because someone told a beach tag girl she’s doing a lousy job, you may have reason to question how your tax money is being spent. FOUR vehicles? As for the local newspaper, they didn’t have a reporter on the scene, so they don’t know about it – yet. I’m waiting to see the police report before I send a link to this blog item to the mayor, the council members, and the city manager. But don’t worry: nothing beats the cockatoo story.

  • Factchecker  On September 2, 2012 at 10:28 am

    See, Mr. Color in the Lines, it seems to me that the badge inspector WAS doing her job. She followed her employers policy of giving the women the benefit of the doubt, a courtesy I’m sure they greatly appreciated. Additionally, when met with a confrontational beach go-er, she did the professional thing and instead of engaging in an altercation, chose to take it up the chain of command, a move I’m sure you can appreciate. After reading your entire “story” what I do finding interesting is that for such a supposed “rule follower,” you seem to make an awful lot of assumptions regarding the parties involved, none of which seem to be backed up by any factual evidence. Instead of painting yourself as the victim of a bunch of incompetent townies, all you’ve really done is make yourself look like a self-righteous bully who makes himself feel better by taking an insignificant matter and blowing it out of proportion.

  • TheLocalRuleFollower  On September 2, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    Dear Sir,

    You mention you purchased a seasonal beach pass. You must then be familiar with the detail oriented beach tag checker. The one that, much like a local bartender, remembers her customers. She knows who is a regular and who is not. She knows who needs to pay up, and who truly may have left their pass at home (coming from a bike ride? A run? Any other activity that resulted in a pit stop at the beach before stopping home for tags and towels?).

    With that said (and your overuse and abuse of colons aside), I find this account overwhelmingly contradictory. You claim to follow the rules; essentially this is your M.O. So how do you justify the beach tag operator who followed the rules she was given, escalated a Situation with someone who is… “curmudgeonly,” at best, being “inept,” among the other negative adjectives provided?

    It seems that your panties have found themselves in a bunch, and have left your “bald, pudgy” self feeling defensive of being put on the spot.

    Sir, grow up. Your exceptional writing skills would be best used elsewhere. Perhaps in that issue of the Atlantic you were reading.


  • foureyedcurmudgeon  On September 2, 2012 at 7:02 pm

    A note from The Curmudgeon:

    This post seems to have struck a chord, and more than a week after publication, is eliciting some heated responses. It looks as if today it has gone semi-viral and is being read a lot; the blog today has had thirty-three percent more hits than its previous busiest day, and the day is far from over.

    This is called a moderated blog, which means than no comments are published unless The Curmudgeon decides to allow them to be published. As you can see, he has no problem welcoming comments that express views contrary to his own – or even comments saying he acted stupidly or foolishly.

    The Curmudgeon welcomes your comments. To be published, though, he asks only two things: first, keep the language clean; and second, no ad hominem attacks. All this means is that if you want to attack, attack the writing, attack the idea, attack the action but don’t attack the person. For example, if you think The Curmudgeon acted stupidly, say he acted stupidly and he will post your comment; say that he IS stupid and that is an ad hominem attack and will not be published. If you go too far, he will contact you and make suggestions that will make your comments postable; whether you choose to take the extra steps is entirely up to you. This is nothing more than The Curmudgeon’s very minor contribution to restoring civility to the exchange of views on the web (recognizing that some of you clearly think The Curmudgeon abandoned civility when he dared question authority).

    So by all means, keep those cards and letters coming!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: