from August 24, 2003
Dear Orville Slack IV,
Recently a policeman called and offered to sell me a couple of tickets to a dance. I started out telling him I didn’t even have a boyfriend, which is true, but that didn’t stop him. He said he was sure he could arrange a date for me. I’m very quick, except with my feet, so right away I told him I didn’t dance. He said that’s OK, my date would teach me how and it was for a good cause. While he was explaining about the good cause I thought up another good excuse. I said dancing was against my religion. That was a mistake because he asked me a personal question, what is your religion anyway? I know there are religions that preach against dancing but I couldn’t think of any. So I bought a ticket. However I was smart enough to tell him that he wouldn’t have to furnish a date, I said I knew a friend who would take me to the dance, even though dancing was against our beliefs, we’d just stand around and watch.
Strickly speaking I guess you could say I bought two tickets. What did I do wrong and what will happen if I don’t show up for the dance?
—Taken in Toledo
This note is not quite typical of the spate of letters Orville receives on the subject of being invited to a policeman’s ball. His general advice to the typical writer is this:
One of the most misunderstood of all solicitations is the “invitation” to a policeman’s ball. That invitation obviously comes with strings attached. The question is, How many strings? The first string, the one every experienced solicitee understands, is that you are expected to pay for the invitation by purchasing a number of tickets. A second string is that the policeman’s ball never actually takes place. Slack points out that in his near-century as a beg-off artist, he has never once met anyone who had been to, or has even heard of anyone who had been to, a policeman’s ball. Therefore, he concludes, they do not exist. A third possible string—the string that causes fear and trembling among the solicitees—is that there might be a positive correlation between the purchase of the ticket and future freedom from minor traffic citations.
The evidence of this correlation is, however, sparse. While the federal government has undoubtedly conducted studies on the subject, the results of such studies have not been published. Orville therefore advises caution in the treatment of policeman’s ball solicitors. Though most of them are, technically speaking, strangers to the solicitee, they should be treated as acquaintances. His recommended response to their offer is to switch the subject. Suggested topics are the desperate need for gun control and the crying need for a law requiring the death penalty for killers of police officers. (The adjectives “desperate” and “crying” are important, he insists, and should not be omitted.)
Under no circumstance, he warns, should the subject of the current low wages of our protectors be broached. Any mention of money will only lead the conversation back to the subject of the policeman’s ball.
As for Taken in Toledo’s delightful letter. You did everything wrong, but nothing will happen if you don’t show up at this non-event. And good luck with finding a boyfriend!