The Police Beat

When you live in a small town (like I do), you get used to hearing gossip—and, conversely, being careful what you say and do to avoid being the topic of gossip. You expect to hear things at ball games, the grocery store, or even when you walk your dog around the block.
Like whose basement flooded—from a neighbor, at the corner down the street. Who’s getting divorced—I can’t count the number of divorces I’ve found out about at the grocery store. Or who’s having an affair—the baseball diamond. Or having a baby with someone else’s husband—at a field hockey game, I kid you not. Or whose kid had a wild party when their parents were out of town and trashed their house—at the neighborhood coffee shop. Every place you go, hotbeds of information.
But perhaps one of the biggest sources for town gossip is the Police Beat of the local weekly newspaper. This simple column has been known to make or break people. Certainly almost everyone I know thinks twice before calling the police about everything from something as simple as a missing dog to something as serious as a household break-in. I even know people who hesitated to call the police when their kids were missing! Really!
Why? They don’t want to appear in the Police Beat.
Maybe if you live in a larger town or a big city, this is hard to believe. I mean, how bad can this really be? You have no idea.
For instance, a while back, a friend’s dog (who was known for being “mouthy”—he was a golden retriever, what choice did he have?) stole an elderly woman’s purse on Main Street. Yes, as “Stealer” was on a walk—by himself—he grabbed the poor woman’s purse right out of her hands and made off with it, and she called the cops (of course). “Stealer” and his “parents,” you guessed it, headlined the Police Beat the next week.
Or what about the woman who called the police because she was outside in her garage one night and heard footsteps outside in the dark. She was terrified! The police arrive, sirens blazing only to startle away a herd of deer. Yep, Police Beat.
But perhaps the most bizarre—a woman (yes I know her) who was “taken in” to the police station for allegedly running over a police officer. Apparently, if I’m to believe what I read in the Police Beat and heard at the grocery store and at the ball field (this was a big story in town, folks), said woman was pulled over for speeding on her way home. She was in her bathing suit (yes, this was noted in the Police Beat); she was pretty p.o.’d (maybe I’d have been too, thinking about what the Police Beat would say, no doubt), and after she got her ticket, she pulled out a little too fast and then (allegedly) ran over the police officer’s foot. Embarrassing? Well, let’s just say, this was about the only thing anyone talked about for days, weeks, and (in my case) is still talking about in a blog—years later.
Because here’s the thing: it’s a small town, so each of these people is easily identifiable by everyone else just by what’s mentioned in the Police Beat. So, you can well imagine, the reluctance to call the police about ANYTHING for fear it will end up in the Police Beat. Then what? To be labeled the Kooky Lady at the corner of Orchard and Main streets (no, not my real street address, but I do live on a corner in the middle of town).
Still, sometimes you just have to call. Such it was that the Kooky Lady at Orchard and Main streets called the police to report that someone was stealing her apple tree—branch by branch.
Now, before you jump to the conclusion that I really am said Kooky Lady, you should know that I’m very passionate about my garden, the birds in my garden, and nature in general. You know this if you read my blog very often or if you follow me on Twitter. (If you don’t follow me on Twitter, please do, @wordsxo) Or ask my bird watching buddies on Twitter, @crytzerfry @thebirdsisters @erikamarksauthr @litlinx @cmsmith57 @amymackinnon, just how passionate I am about birds and flowers and spring and such. Right now it’s all about the lilacs about to bloom and the mourning doves nesting in the eaves of my porch and the orioles’ return to Maine—gorgeous!
Still, there’s the apple tree theft; I don’t want to forget about that. If you aren’t familiar with apple trees, you don’t know that their flowers (called blossoms, that actually produce the apples) are BEAUTIFUL and smell AMAZING. And what you also might not know, even remotely, if you are unfamiliar with apple blossoms, is that before they actually bloom all the way to their complete loveliness, they are tightly closed. As the weather warms—or, in this case, if you cut the branches first and bring them into a warm house—the blossoms open and are beautiful and smell AMAZING. But outside when the smell of the lilacs and the smell of the apple blossoms and sometimes the smell of the beach roses all merge together, it really is one of the most spectacular things in life, to be treasured and protected. You’ll have to take my word for it!
Back to the apple tree. In a corner of our yard, close to the street. A couple of weeks ago I noticed that there were more than several (I’d say 12) small branches snipped off the apple tree. Obviously with a pruning shears. To say I was mad would be an understatement. I was incensed. If you’re a gardener, you know that if you prune a bush or tree in the wrong place, then the tree grows badly. (Not to mention, the blossoms were gone!) And said random pruner did not prune in the correct place.
A couple of weeks ago, I noticed…
I asked a couple of my retired neighbors (who are always home, and are always interested in the goings-on around the neighborhood), and neither had seen anything. So, I put up a sign, yes I did, that said: This is private property and Don’t steal my apple branches, you scumbag. Or something like that (probably without the scumbag part because I’m too polite to say that).
But guess what? The next day, the very next day, I went out there and you guessed it, more branches were cut off! First I changed my sign to add the word scumbag to it (no I really didn’t, I’m still too polite), then we took pictures of the mutilated branches, and then I swallowed my fear of the Police Beat and called the police.
I’m sure you can only imagine the amusement of the police officer when he arrived. (He didn’t overtly laugh, but I know he was thinking he was laughing.) He didn’t take it too seriously, actually he suggested that it was deer or just a neighbor interested in “forcing a few apple blossoms on the kitchen table” (forcing is the technical term for making flowers bloom out of season), but I pointed out that pruning shears were obviously used and that “they” had taken about two dozen branches. A little too much for a kitchen table.
I convinced him that my apple branches were being sold on the black market. Illicitly and for probably a LOT OF MONEY. Basically, the very nice police officer politely agreed with me and told me that there wasn’t a whole lot he could do without catching said-thief in the act. After a brief second of eye contact, he wisely added that a stake out was out of the question, but that maybe I should buy a motion-detecting camera to protect my priceless apples, lilacs, and sea roses.
Then he headed back to his patrol car.
“Oh, one more thing, Officer Friendly,” I called out, as he walked toward his car, his back to me. I tried to sound casual. “Will this be in the Police Beat?”
He turned around. “Only if you file an official report, do you want to?”
“No, we’re good.”
And the Kooky Lady of Orchard and Main streets headed back into her house.
How does gossip news spread in your neck of the woods? Is it useful to you as a writer?


  1. CMSmith says:

    Love it, love it, love it. For so many reasons. Do get the motion detector camera. You’ll have a lot of fun with it if you have critters around your house at night.

    I know what you mean about the pruning. I hear your pain. Have you corrected the bad cuts yet?

    Good call on the official police report.

  2. I’m sorry to hear about your apple tree. I once lived in a small town for several years and I know exactly what you mean. It was in Sicily – so the Americans knew each other very well!

    I – sadly – know nothing about gardening….my entire yard is grass with one small tree in the center and we have a lawn service. I think the lawn guy took a look around and thought to himself, “easiest money I’ll ever make”. We are however, going to be very adventurous next year and plant a garden in the back…go figure!

    I hope you catch that varmint, scumbag thief!

  3. motherlogue says:

    You captured me with this post. Great writing! I have to say, I wish you would have filed the report, though. This apple-thief should feel the shame through the police beat, in my opinion. I’m incensed. It was interesting to hear of the small town sharing of “news,” too. Even at the baseball diamond! Wow.

  4. BIKE LADY says:

    So funny–and I love your side comments. Cracked me up at 6:40 a.m., Arizona time.

    My recent neighborhood “gossip” story was the one about the lady I watched take the empty flower pots off my patio wall in front of my house. I went outside, confronted her, and asked her to leave. Then I went back inside to my office and posted an email to my neighbors about her. Most everyone thought she was the kook. So maybe it’s a good thing I don’t put actual plants in there, or she would have absconded with those! I’ll let you know if this shows up in the neighborhood newsletter; it’s too “small town” to show up in The Arizona Republic. LOL.

  5. Cynthia Robertson says:

    How terrible some scumbag damaged your tree!
    When we lived in a small community on an island in the Med there was A LOT of gossip, most of it wrong. Only time I’ve ever dreaded the wagging tongues.
    Funny one, Julia 🙂

  6. E.J. Wesley says:

    Scumbag! 🙂 I’ll say it’s pretty bold to waltz up and lop limbs off of someone else’ tree. That stinks!

  7. Oh MY… I’d be livid, too. But you had me in stitches with your scumbag comment and stories of the police beat. There is a retirement community not ‘too far’ from us (which really means about 30 miles away) – and my husband and I get a REAL kick out of reading the police blotter. HILARIOUS… police called because resident backed out of his garage with the door still closed (seriously), and other fun stuff. So I can totally “get” your fear of NOT wanting to be in the Police Beat. Ha ha.

    I do agree that a trail camera w/ a motion sensor could be cool but only IF you can ensure someone doesn’t steal it (they have a really long range for capturing photos in the dark, too). But because they are expensive, you want it to be secure … but on ours, we’ve captured bobcats, javelina, deer, foxes, coyotes, etc.. (a planned future blog post). What fun. And it might satisfy your curiosity of who the heck is damaging your trees.

    Since I can’t come there to console you by taking you for ice cream, please, instead, picture me doing karate kicks at invisible thief FOR you, because I, unlike you, am NOT that polite. 🙂

    PS I commented on your “101” blog, too!

  8. This is hilarious! I had a great time reading your story and learning about the Police Beat. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Leah says:

    I’m laughing out loud here! I don’t blame that retriever one bit, by the way. If he’s walking by himself with no owner in sight, he should not be held liable for his actions. He’s a dog for crying out loud! As for your apple branches, I would be just as mad. In fact, we had some rats steal fruit off our fruit trees and I really wanted someone to complain to (besides Bryan). What an injustice, I tell you! Fortunately though, gossip doesn’t spread much in San Diego as there’s lots to go around.

  10. Christine, Glad you loved it! Still haven’t gotten the motion detecting camera, but we may — in addition to critters, we might catch lilac thiefs (yes, living on a corner has its challenges)… as for the bad cuts, we’re leaving them for now, the leaves are concealing them and our pain 🙂

    cookinghealthy, Yes, I know exactly what you mean about Americans in small towns outside the US 🙂 Gardens are so much fun and great for fresh food; I think you’ll enjoy it!

    motherlogue, I’m glad you enjoyed the post! And thank you for the visit and comment to my blog! If the apple tree thief were the only one being ashamed by the Police Beat, I probably wouldn’t have hesitated to file a report. Unfortunately, I think the snickers at the grocery store would’ve been tough to live down! 🙂 (p.s. and the baseball diamond is one of the hottest gossip spots in town!!)

    BikeLady, I’m glad to have started your a.m. with a laugh!! That is UNBELIEVABLE about your neighbor!! A good thing you had a way to contact your neighbors to warn them…. maybe you should start a gossip column in the neighborhood newsletter, wouldn’t you be popular!? … 🙂

    Cynthia, Glad you enjoyed it! Yes, the scumbags of the world really take a toll, don’t they?! An island in the Med? Now I don’t care anymore about the scumbag and just want to be THERE! 🙂

    E.J., Yes, I’ll say it again: SCUMBAG 🙂 I admit that the word bandied about in our home may have been stronger… but yes, they were mighty bold. What next? The arugula??? 🙂

    Melissa, Glad to provide the stitches. It was pretty unbelievable! Living on a corner is not beneficial to private life in any way! That garage door story is EXACTLY the kind of thing that we read in the police beat here. Really? I think we may get a motion sensor camera, what fun! (And if we catch someone stealing our LILACS, they’ll be sorry, the scumbag! And they’ll need to endure my friend Melissa’s karate kicks too!)

    Jen, So glad you found it hilarious! It was fun to write, but the actual theft was NOT fun!! 🙂

    Leah, So glad to provide a laugh. (Agreed about “Stealer”) Who CAN we complain to about life’s injustices??? My husband, usually pretty unruffled by almost anything, was equally p.o.’d by this incident. What next? Our garden veggies, about 10 steps from the apple tree? As for the gossip, there are distinct advantages of a larger metropolitan area in that regard!

  11. I LOVE this post! So much good fodder here for stories!!!! I absolutely fantasize about small town life. Except I’d be the only Jew. Did you ever see Doc Hollywood? Probably not realistic but I loved it!

  12. Nina! My answer to your comment never posted… blogger has been quite messed up lately, sorry about that! Although in most ways my town is really nothing like the small town in Doc Hollywood, it is true that everyone knows everyone else’s business. Which is quite bizarre for me (having grown up in larger towns)….interesting level of interest! It makes for unbelievable fodder, as you say! Sorry again for the delay, and thanks for the comment!

  13. I started reading this post in email the day it came out but got interrupted. Just had to come back and finish because it was so more-ish. You come up with the coolest ideas for blog posts!

    I love it that you had me in suspense about the theft of apple tree branches and your reputation in town. But, that second part begs a question. Do the townsfolk read your blog? Seems to me they could create a nickname and some infamous news items for you a dozen times over from reading your blog. The Eccentric Writer has been done. What do you think they would choose for you?

  14. Milli, I have no idea if anyone in town reads my blog — I guess I assume some friends do… either way, whoever writes the Police Beat works for the local weekly paper, and gets all stories from the actual police public records. So people would have to actually report items to the police and then THEY would be recorded, not me!

  15. Lisa Ahn says:

    This is so funny — I feel like I’m in the town, at your corner, looking for the thief. Fabulous. ~ lisa
    (p.s. I found your blog through the Cat’s Eye Writer Contest)

  16. Lisa, Thanks so much for the comment and the visit to my blog! I’m glad you found me via The Cat’s Eye blog! I also thank you for the comment to my spooky photo blog — unfortunately blogger will not allow me to post that one for some reason! I did see it, though, in email and I really appreciate it! Thanks again for your comments and visit!

  17. I deal with so many Kooky Ladies, I mean sweet old/young ladies, and I wish this one lived in my small town.