What Lesbians Do

When I'm selling Jay's funny fish on Telegraph Ave, there's also a little book she wrote, for sale on a corner of the table.

It's a zine, basically — a self-published, photocopied collection of short articles and clever poems she's written, including one piece that won a prize. There's some good stuff in there, and I re-read some pages of it now and again while eating lunch at the table.

(No, I'm not trying to sell you Jay's chapbook. If you're curious and send two bucks, though, I'll send you a copy, and even make sure the cash gets into the till.)

Jay's book is called What Lesbians Do, and underneath the title some smaller print adds, and Other Maladjusted Yet Informative Sex/Art Rants. The title gets your attention, and that's the idea, right?

Well, today it got a different kind of attention. A guy walked purposefully up to the fish-stand, pointed at the booklet, and said, "You'll have to remove this from your table."

"Excuse me?" was the best response I could come up with. It was early. I was sleepy.

"We've received a complaint that you're selling sexually explicit material, in violation of your street vendor's license. It's got to go."

Vendors on Berkeley's
Telegraph Avenue

I don't take orders unless you're my commanding officer, and this sounded like an order. Wearing t-shirt and cutoffs, the man looked like a tourist to me, but by his nauseating 'kiss my ring' demeanor, I surmised that he was either the Pope or a city employee.

"Well, first off," I said, "who the hell are you?"

He sighed and flashed a laminated ID card from his wallet, establishing that he was from the city's Department of Make Vendors Miserable, and he was here to do exactly that.

He said again, almost word for word, his spiel about sexually explicit material being prohibited, and I said, "Sexually explicit material? If you know where I can get some, I'd be interested." Then I handed him a copy of What Lesbians Do, and said, "Sorry, no naked pictures," as he thumbed through it.

That's when two vendors working near me came around to the front of the fish-stand, and started whining about the book, calling it "pornography." Slow as a sunrise, it dawned on me that they'd seen the zine's title, and gone to the schmuck in a t-shirt to have it banned.

Of course, neither of these ladies had actually opened the booklet to see What Lesbians Do. There's nothing in the text or illustrations that's particularly explicit, and these ladies lacked the courage to say anything to me about it. They'd literally judged the book by its title.

Ignoring the vendors, I explained to the schmuck, "This is a book of poetry." I spoke very slowly, as if I was talking to a moron, because I was. "It's been through the city's approval process, it's funny, it's not porn, and it costs two dollars—"

I almost added, "and if you want it off the table, there are ten copies, so that'll be twenty bucks please." But if you practice too much free speech to a government worker's face, it always makes things worse, so I shut up.

I was pissed off, though, and eager to argue, as the schmuck continued flipping through the chapbook, hoping to find titty pix or something, but nope.

The rude prude vendors were prattling on, and one of them said to the city schmuck, "This book is very tacky, not up to the standards of what's permitted on Telegraph Avenue."

"Neither are the horrid fish he sells," said the other vendor witch.

"Well, if tackiness isn't allowed," I said, "let's talk about the ugly pottery you're selling."

"OK, OK," said the city schmuck, cutting off the argument just as it was getting interesting. To me he said, "Has it been vetted?"

"Yes it has," I said, and it's true. That's another part of the head-scratching maze of bureaucracy Jay had to go through to practice capitalism in this town. It's illegal to sell on the street without a permit, and in order to get a permit you must first have a license to sell on Telegraph, and in order to get that, your merchandise must first be approved, which involves sworn affidavits and/or photographic evidence that everything you're selling is made right here in Berkeley (though it's an open secret that most of the jewelry sold on the Ave is imported from Thailand) and made by hand. The bureaucracy decided that Jay's poetry meets the definition of "made by hand," which makes this next sentence literally the truth: What Lesbians Do has been approved by the City of Berkeley.

The schmuck turned to the two witches, and said, "You'll have to take it up with the office." Then he put Jay's booklet back on my table, and walked away.


Schmuck defeated! Witches defeated! 

The witches walked back to their table without any further comment, so I decided not to gloat or taunt them. My table was between their tables, I'd be there for another three hours, and I didn't want three hours of their BS.

♦ ♦ ♦

In the late afternoon, there was BS from a different direction. Four Jesus freaks started working the pedestrians at my corner, sharing their tall tales of what wretched sinners they'd been before Jesus H Christ made them such swell people. They didn't just stand at the corner, they wandered around, preaching at people near the corner, which included me. One of them leaned over my table to complain about the sacrilegious fish, and added that Jesus loves me anyway.

"I love Him too," I said. "Why, I've been a Christian for twenty years, and I teach Sunday School at the Nazarene Church two blocks thataway." A 24-carat lie, of course, but it was the best line I could think of to bluff his bluster, and it seemed to work. He looked at the JR 'Bob' Dobbs fish I was wearing on my hat, couldn't reconcile it with what I'd just told him, and walked away confused, to bother other people instead.

The four of them took turns standing on a milk crate, preaching to the heathens of downtown Berkeley, but we heathens weren't very interested, and I don't think they made any sales or conversions.

There was a great moment that started when a panhandler in rags flashed them the Satan sign (index and pinky fingers up, which I wouldn't have known if Sarah-Katherine hadn't shown me (and thank you, dear)). The Christians saw the sign of Satan, were greatly offended, and one of them started screaming at the panhandler, so he stood on a very sturdy trash can and started counter-preaching their preaching.

"The Bible is full of lies," he hollered, "and Christians have killed more people than Hitler." Probably true, though I haven't seen the stats.

One of the Christians started screaming at the homeless guy, "You don't deserve His love, but God loves you!"

And this shaggy, skinny, bearded man — in sandals, yet — screamed right back, "Don't listen to them! They're Christians, and Christians are fools!"

"Oh yeah, listen to a homeless wino instead," one of the Christians screamed back.

The wino hoisted his paper-bag-wrapped bottle above his head and whooped, "At least this is something real! Maybe I worship a bottle but you fuckers worship thin air!"

"We worship the one true God!" one or two of them shouted back.

"I'll drink to that," said the bum, and he did.

"He'll drink to that," said one of the Jesus Freaks derisively, and another said, "The only thing you believe in is that bottle!"

The bum lowered the bottle, looked at it lovingly, shook his head and said, "Praise the Lord."

All this quickly devolved into so many shouts — "Worship the whiskey" and "May God forgive you" and "He'll forgive me as he's licking my ass" — I couldn't take notes quickly enough. Four street preachers against one unbelieving bum, and after a few minutes the bum mellowed and went back to panhandling. Gotta make a living.

"I'm going to Hell," he said, "so I'm gonna be thirsty. Spare change for a beer?"

The witch vendor next to me said something disparaging about the guy, so I gave him five bucks, a cookie from my lunch bag, and a pat on the back. He said thanks and vanished.

♦ ♦ ♦

So today I made some fish, made some money, and made some enemies. All in all, it was a fine and sunny day on Telegraph.

Last thing as I was packing up my stand, one of the vendors who'd complained about What Lesbians Do said to me, "Good night." She was looking right at me when she said it, so I cocked my head like a dog does when it's confused, and she added all nicely, "Hope you didn't take it personally," and gave me a phony smile.

Lady, I've been bothered by small-minded people before. You're not the first, last, or smallest-minded, and of course I take it personally, but also I don't give a damn.

Didn't say any of that, though. If I start saying things when I'm angry, I can go on all night, and I wanted to hurry home and eat peanut butter sandwiches.

From Pathetic Life #14
Saturday, July 29, 1995

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

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