Rooms at the Fowler House where I lived in Miami, Florida, were occupied by an odd assortment of alkies, day laborers and old people unable to afford anything better. About what you expected from skid row. My room was six feet wide, ten long, and furnished with a twin bed and a rickety dresser. The rent was six dollars a month. I needed a job desperately.

The Miami Herald ran a full page ad to recruit Miami cops. The city had the highest crime rate in the nation. Fighting crime and evil sounded like my kind of glamour job.

I took the Civil Service Exam and came out top of the list. Everyone at the Fowler House offered advice on passing the various boards and interviews that followed.

“Dress nice,” counseled Grace, the housekeeper. “Cops are conservative. Wear a suit.”

I had never owned a suit and I was almost broke. I went to the Salvation Army and bought one for two dollars. I selected a gray one, because Grace said gray was conservative. She made sure my borrowed tie was on straight.

The roomful of captains and majors and assistant police chiefs fell into a stunned silence when I walked in for my Board. They stared at me standing in front of them staring back. What was the matter? Didn’t all their applicants appear in business suits?

Finally, somebody cleared his throat so loudly I flinched.

“Boy, where’d you get that suit?”

It never occurred to me to lie. I was a mountain boy from the hills of Oklahoma and Arkansas raised to tell the truth, look a man straight in the eye, and keep your word when you gave it.

“Salvation Army, sir.”

There I was, a skinny kid with short, curly hair, a big honest backwoods grin, and a gray zoot suit that had somehow survived the Roarin’ Twenties in somebody’s closet. It had shoulder pads that filled a doorway, lapels the size of desk tops, and baggy trousers with big pleats.

Everyone laughed so hard the secretary from next door stuck her head inside the room to see what was going on. She looked at me and laughed too. I laughed along with them, although I wasn’t quite sure why we were laughing.

The Oral Board was supposed to take fifteen minutes; I was in there for an hour telling stories about my various travels on a motorbike across the U.S. I knew I had passed.

Years later, after I had moved on, the Miami Police Academy was still telling recruits the story of the hillbilly kid who arrived in Miami on an 80cc Yamaha motorbike, lived on skid row, and came to his Review Board wearing a zoot suit. The entire Fowler House of drunks, ageing retirees, day labors and assorted other riff-raff showed up for my graduation from the police academy. Chief of Police Walter Headley made a special point to shake hands with each of my unorthodox guests. It was truly the first time Skid Row ever came to a police graduation ceremony