NO CONTROL.

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I WAS TOO COMFORTABLE, that must have been it. This was someone’s gentle reminder that anything could happen. Such things happen all the time in movies. In Fight Club, Edward Norton returns from a business trip to find a smoldering hole where his apartment used to be. In The Matrix, Keanu Reeves awakens to find his pale, naked body covered in tubes. And, in the neverending movie known as my life, I found myself staring down the barrel of a gun as the officer told me to step out of my car and keep my hands where he could see them.

And that’s when the panic hit: Oh Christ. I gotta use one of my hands to open the door. It was one of the stupidest thoughts I had ever conceived. Not to be outdone, my mouth followed with one of the stupidest things I’d ever said.

“Can I use one of my hands to open the door?”

I’d been stopped before. Growing up in New Jersey, DWB (Driving While Black) wasn’t just a cute acronym used to identify racial profiling; it was a way of life. The sight of red and blue lights flashing in the rear-view mirror was as commonplace as my mother’s yelling at me to put on a warmer jacket. But my friends and I were always let go with a warning. Slow down, the officer would say, the Willowbrook Mall isn’t going anywhere. And, despite my shortcomings, I am a lawful citizen who has always believed that if you had the truth behind you, it was enough.

But that belief was put to a strict test April 15 — Easter Sunday. The next hour found me in the backseat of a Mount Prospect, Ill., squad car, handcuffed to the realization that my precious truth meant very little in this situation.

A WANTED MAN

Let’s start with the given: I was stopped.

I’d been visiting a longtime college friend in Mount Prospect. By 1 a.m., I had filled up on baseball and bad Chinese food and decided to head back to the city. I climbed into my dirty old Jeep Cherokee and began the 45-minute trek back to downtown Chicago.

I was moments away from reaching the entrance ramp onto Interstate Highway 90 East when I caught a familiar flash of red and blue lights. I looked back. Sure enough. One of Mount Prospect’s finest was behind me.

I already knew what this was about. I had quickly left Florida and moved back to Chicago without renewing my registration. It had since expired, leaving me a target for every droopy-eyed patrolman looking to fill his ticket quota on the graveyard shift. I pulled over to the side and began to gather the essentials: license, insurance, expired registration. I rolled down the window as the cop, a slightly balding middle-aged guy who looked more like a little league baseball coach, approached my car. License and insurance please, he asked. I gave them the particulars.

“Do you know why I stopped you, Mr. Jeffers?”

“The tag,” I replied. “I just moved from Florida.”

He looked though my information, told me to wait and walked back to his squad car. Five minutes passed, then another five, and all I could think was that this guy had to be the slowest writer in the world. How long did it take to spell Jeffers on a ticket?

After 15 minutes, the cop returned. “Mr. Jeffers, can you give me your social security number again, just for verification?” he asked. I rattled off the number.

“When was the last time you were in Jersey?”

“Last month.”

The cop went back to his squad car just as another blue-and-white swung around and parked next to him. When the cop returned moments later, I figured it was to hand me a ticket and tell me to get the registration taken care of as soon as possible. Instead, the patrolman politely pulled out his gun, asked me to step out of the car and told me to keep my hands where he could see them.

Boy, did I blow that one.

As I stepped out of the car, the patrolman directed me to the hood of his car. Another patrolman, this one younger and with black hair, began to frisk me as the other one put his gun back in the holster and headed back to my car.

Judgment and “Black” etiquette tell you never to ask a cop why he is doing what he is doing. Depending on where you are, it’s an invitation to an ass kicking. Yours. But I kept thinking that there had to be more to this. And as the officer’s hands ran up my inner thigh, I figured I was due an explanation.

“What’s this about?” I asked.

“Eyes front!” the younger cop barked. Immediately, my eyes grabbed for the darken asphalt and shrubbery ahead. The older patrolman walked back to us.

“Did you know there is a warrant out for your arrest?” The cop asked me plainly.

“What?”

“You’re wanted for Assault with a Deadly Weapon in New Jersey. The warrant’s extraditable in five states.”

That meant I was wanted in five states.

“What?”

“We’re going to put you in handcuffs,” the patrolman said as the younger one slapped, and then tightened the metal bracelets around my wrists. “The officer will escort you to his car.”

At this point, I was fresh out of _What_s.

A PUNCH LINE REVISITED

As I sat in the patrol car, my mind could only grasp one concept: senior year.

Senior year of college, I stood in front of a judge in a downtown Newark courthouse, responding to a bench warrant for my arrest. I had received a summons to appear in traffic court for two speeding tickets and failure to provide identification and didn’t show up the first time. Understandable, considering I had no clue about the tickets.

When I appeared before the judge, I presented time sheets from my job at Norris University Center, in Illinois, and affidavits from my professors confirming that I was not in Newark at the time the tickets were issued.

My mother was furious that I had to fly to Jersey to deal with this. Me? I laughed. It was funny. Apparently, there was someone claiming to be me, who had used my name and my address to fool the police. It was hysterical. Throughout spring quarter, I joked with friends about my status as a wanted man in New Jersey.

But it now seemed that whoever’s been doing this has graduated to bigger and better crime. And it wasn’t funny anymore. It was downright terrifying. I could end up spending Easter in jail. And what about my credit cards? What else has he done in my name? I could owe thousands, tens of thousands, without even knowing it. I was recently declined a line of credit at Jennifer Convertibles. Could this be why?

After all, until they find this guy, he’s not responsible for what he does. I am.

And what about the cops? What cop in his right mind would believe this story: A guy gets pulled over and, on a routine check, is found to be wanted on a felony charge. And it’s all some mix-up? And look where I am. Mount Prospect, deep in the heart of Chicago’s northwest suburbs. Next to Schaumburg. Up the block from Northbrook. And though I didn’t think the cops would do anything to me, all I could think of was Amadu Diallo, Tim Thomas and Rodney King.

And there I was — a fine, upstanding though somewhat morally corrupted editor, now reduced to a felon, a fugitive sitting in the backseat of a squad car while a pair of armed, white cops rifled through his car. And I had done nothing to justify the switch.

No control.

WHAT’S MY NAME DOING RIGHT NOW?

Of course, there’s a somewhat happy ending. It’s not like I’m typing this from downstate. When the rest of the warrant came through, the cops finally got a look at the physical description of “Glenn Jeffers.” Five-foot-five, 150 pounds. I was never so happy to be slightly under six feet and clinging by a thread to 185 in my life.

The cops took off the handcuffs, apologized for the mix-up, and let me off without a ticket for the expired tag. The younger patrolman told me to contact the Essex County Sheriff’s Department and alert them to this little problem. (I did, and they told me to come back to Jersey and turn myself in, at which point I got a lawyer.) The cops jumped into their squad cars and drove off in search of more dastardly denizens in their fair suburb.

I climbed in my Jeep. And then I just sat there for a minute, going over the number of scenarios that might have happened and thanking God for the one that did occur.

But that didn’t ease the shock of what had happened, or of what crimes might be occurring out there right now, committed by some five-foot-five Black guy who calls himself “Glenn.”

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glenn jeffers has moved back to chicago to work as a magazine writer, a less strenuous profession that will keep him off welfare and give him enough spare time to write an oscar-winning screenplay.