In 1990, I worked the midnight shift at the former Racine and Monroe police district. One hot muggy weekend, the wife and I decided to attend the Around the Coyote, an art festival in Chicago’s Wicker Park Neighborhood.
After a few hours of sleep, my wife and I headed to the festival. We were standing at the intersection of North Avenue and Damen. There was nothing between us and the opposite side of the street except a Black blind man the size of a linebacker and a mousy-haired middle-aged white hippie-looking woman with him.
I spotted a break in the traffic. The wife and I eased around the blind man and started to cross.
I felt a burning sting on my back. Then more. I turned to look. The blind man was wielding his cane like a whip. All the blows are landing on my back, then neck and arms as I flailed to repel his blows. Then, more on the shoulders and back as the wife started pulling me away.
The mousy-haired hippie woman was screaming at the blind guy and futilely trying to stop him from swinging. Finally, it got to the point I had to do something, anything, to keep from getting hit again.
Those white canes cause instant purple welts, and they hurt like hell.
I got ready. At the time, I was 180 pounds of rocking socking dynamite. All lean muscle, sinew, and speed. I cocked my arm and got the Sicilian soup bone ready to launch. I started the punch to knock the crazed blind guy into next Tuesday.
Midway to his chest, I froze. My brain started flashing the next day’s front-page headlines, “Off-duty cop beats up blind man.”
Wap, wap, wap. More blows.
Discretion being the better part of stupidity, I fled to the opposite curb.
I looked back, and what do I see? The blind hulk was coming in my direction with a look of malice and purpose, tap, tap, tapping that cane on the street and dragging the mousy middle-aged hippie, trying to hold him back.
I cocked the soup bone again. I told him to stop, or I would stop his heart. He slowed down and smiled. He said, “I just want to apologize.”
That is when things got ludicrous. To the best of my recollection, the conversation went something like this:
Blind guy: “Look, I’m sorry. Didn’t you see the car? The one where the mirror hit me? I was trying to hit the car.”
Me: “Didn’t you see me trying to cross the street in front of you?”
We both laughed.
When I got home, I checked myself in the mirror. My arms, neck, and back were a mass of purple welts.
After a long nap, I went to work. I was working in civilian clothes that night, wearing jeans and a tee-shirt. The watch commander was at the desk smoking and drinking a cup of coffee. He looked up.
“What the hell happened to you?” What could I say? “I got beat up by a blind guy.”
He had no patience for jokes that night and let me know it in no uncertain terms.
I insisted that a blind guy beat me up. I called home. The wife told him, “Mr. Tough Guy got beat up by a blind man.” I could hear her cackling laugh through the phone.
The Captain hauled me into his office and got serious. He was concerned about a major beef coming down. I explained what happened and what did not happen. He appeared to be satisfied.
At roll call, he saved my name until last—the final humiliation.
“Now, we have Officer Bella, who may have made Chicago Police Department history today. Officer Bella may be the first police officer in the history of the department to get beat up by a blind man.”
There were loud hoots and hollers of peeling laughter at my miserable expense.
It only got worse through the years. Whenever the wife and I were out, and the talk was of fights, she would say something to the effect of, “Hey, Mr. Tough Guy, why don’t you tell them about the time you got beat up by the blind man?”
My daughter heard this story too. She inherited the best and worst traits of her mother and me. To this day, if she is with me and some cop friends, and the discussion turns to various escapades, she will remind me to tell the story about getting beat up by the blind guy.