Ramblings by Hal

Ramblings, Characters, part 6-Robert Pen Dragon Ball

Due to technical issues there are no illustrations with this post. Check back Wednesday for more stories behind the badge.


By Hal Collier
LAPD Retired
We are pleased to feature Hal’s reminiscences.

The following story is true. Some may find this short story a bit morbid, but you have to put yourself in the shoes of a street cop looking for a bad guy, keeping in mind officer safety issues. The character may be only known to a few officers as he flew under the radar. He wasn’t a crook, but a colorful drunk.

Robert Pen Dragon Ball.

First the story.
Officers often get alarms at closed businesses and find burglars have broken into the building. The first step is to request the additional cops to secure the perimeter and then they have to search the interior. Some buildings are multiple stories and some are small in area but have special concerns. This story is about a single story building but with many special concerns.

Guns and a Pencil

It’s the middle of the night and I get a burglary alarm on Santa Monica Boulevard. The business is a mortuary across the street from the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. We check the exterior and discover that entry has been made via one of the side doors. I’m not squeamish but I know there are people inside, only most are dead.

My mind is racing. If I was a burglar caught inside a mortuary with cops outside where would I hide? Inside a coffin in the viewing room? In the embalming area with my bare feet sticking out of a sheet and a toe tag attached? Inside a display casket in the sales room?

The first room we search is the embalming room. Oh crap, there’s six pairs of bare feet, all with toe tags. I know what’s under the sheets and I don’t want to look. I take out my #2 pencil and with gun in one hand I begin checking the bottom of their feet. I use the pencil to check for a reaction when I run the pencil across the bottom of every foot. Nothing, thank goodness. We move on to the viewing rooms. The caskets lids are open and a quick look is sufficient. If they look dead and there alive I don’t want to catch them.

The next room is filled with the caskets that are for sale. They are all closed and we’ll have to open each one. I’m beginning to wish I was an electrician like my dad. After fifteen tension-filled minutes we decide that there isn’t anyone inside. I step outside and throw away my pencil. Now do you think cops are paid too much? I’ll never forget guns and a pencil.

Hollywood Character: Robert Pen-Dragon Ball

With a name like that who needs a nick name? Robert lived somewhere north of Hollywood Boulevard. I don’t know if he was on a disability pension or living on a family trust, all I know is that he always had money for beer. Working graveyard, I seldom saw Robert sober. He was just like Otis of Mayberry on the Andy Griffith TV show. He was always friendly and I think he even liked cops.

I was working with Dave. One night, we saw Robert on roller skates, drunk on his ass. He was rolling downhill on Wilcox Avenue. He rolled from one parking meter to the next. It was amusing to watch. Picture a guy letting go of a parking meter, rolling downhill and only stopping when he straddled the next parking meter. Ouch. We stopped Robert two parking meters from Hollywood Boulevard. Dave suggested we take him back up the hill and watch him roll down again.

Another time we saw Robert walking along a side street with a large grocery bag under his arms. it was past midnight and of course, Robert was already drunk. I talked to Robert while Dave looked in the bag. Inside was an unopened six pack of beer. Dave popped open all six beer cans and handed them back to Robert, upside down. Robert staggered away with beer dripping down his pants. We probably saved his life. Last time I saw Robert he was standing outside the 7-11 waiting until 6 AM so he could buy his beer. Robert was just another Hollywood Character who made police work amusing.

Ramblings by Hal

Off duty adventures

By Hal Collier

Ok, you’re a cop, big city, small city, Mayberry, it doesn’t matter. Are you ever off duty?  I’m about to explain why a cop is never off duty, even after retirement.  Are we paranoid, maybe a little, or maybe were just a product of our environment.


There’s an element in society that resents authority–any authority.  The focus might be the leader of a country or a local politician but they are usually well protected so let’s look smaller. Who doesn’t see a cop every day, especially if you make an illegal U-turn? Cops are everywhere, if you can’t find a cop go to the donut shop! What cop hasn’t heard that?  In the business world everyone has coffee breaks, it’s just not in the public view and wearing a uniform that tells everyone what you do.


So just when are cops off duty or not a target? When can a cop relax and be a normal human being? Taking the uniform off? Driving home? Eating at a restaurant with your family? How about off duty in uniform, but in court, or just eating your only meal of a 12 hour shift?  LAPD considered your meal time off duty. If you relax you can die. Paranoid? You be the judge.


Most non-police will not understand what I’m about to describe but I doubt there is a cop in America who won’t be able to relate to some of what I’m saying. You are sitting in a restaurant eating and some citizen walks up and say’s “I don’t want to interrupt your meal,” then they do just that.



Tiny Naylor's back in the day
Tiny Naylor’s back in the day

Let’s start out with the tame stuff. I’ll start with a very old story. 1971: I’m at Tiny Naylor’s a 60’s drive inn restaurant at Sunset and La Brea in the heart of Hollywood. A car hop places two cups of coffee on a tray that rests on a half rolled up window. After one sip from your coffee, two cars race from the intersection. Everyone at Tiny Naylor’s looks at you and their look says, are you going to do something? Yea, you place the tray on the ground and race out of the parking lot. The truth is you go to Winchell’s down the street for the cup the coffee you just gave away.


You’ve worked all night and finally get a break to eat, your first meal in 18 hours. You walk in and sit in a booth. You notice a man at the counter who doesn’t have any shoes. Strange, it’s winter and cold outside. You waitress tells you he had steak and eggs for breakfast. Question do you order food or see if he can pay for his meal first. Right, he couldn’t pay and had to go to jail, we’ll eat tomorrow!


How about this story, you worked all night and then spent all day in court. You grabbed a few hours’ sleep and went back to work. You’re going to eat as soon as you hit the streets. You go to one of those all night Mexican food places and are eating some carnitas on the hood of your police car. You hear glass break. Crap, some miscreant is breaking into the business across the street. Next time I’ll park with my red lights on.



Cops eating
Cops eating

Here’s an interesting story of an encounter I had. I’ve had a really bad night. I’m tired and hungry. All I want is a break and some food. I’m sitting in a booth which is next to the window on Hollywood Boulevard.


I get served my meal and after my first bite this homeless man leans on the window just outside. The only thing separating us is the glass. He’s looking down at my plate and tears start to come from his eyes. I try to ignore him but now the rest of the restaurant patrons are watching.


I can feel my blood pressure rise. Now he comes inside and I reach for my baton. He stops at the cash register and asks for change. He steps outside and goes to the newspaper rack. By now the whole restaurant is watching him and me. I should have been an electrician like my father wanted.


He puts his money in the news rack and it won’t open. The patrons all moan. He reaches into his pocket and grabs some more coins. This time the news rack opens and he takes out one paper. He walks into the restaurant and heads right for me.


I’m thinking, do I choke him out, or just wrist lock and handcuff him. He’s walks up me and hands me the newspaper and says, “Have a nice day officer.” He then walks out of the restaurant and disappears. The other patrons laugh and continue their meals. Me, I’m not hungry anymore and the paper is the LA Times–that anti police rag.


Next I’ll describe some more off duty incidents that were not so tame.