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Knickknacks

Welcome to September. Here's the story so far:

On Wednesday, the city ordered us to stop selling Darwin fish, because they're not made by hand. The rest of our fish are street legal, but yeah, Darwin we buy and resell. We don't hammer Darwin stickers out of stone.

It's the world's most famous non-swimming fish, though, so we'd like to keep selling it. Stupid laws should be ignored, don't you think? Berkeley doesn't want you to know this, but I'll squeal the secret: Almost every stand on Telegraph Ave is in violation of the "must be hand-made" rule, and everyone inside the system knows it.

Some vendors ignore all the rules and regulations, though, and the city knows it, and doesn't do anything about it. They're the free speech vendors, who sell items making a political statement — anarchist bumper stickers, Buddhist buttons, pro-hemp t-shirts, etc, Legal precedent says they can't be prosecuted or shut down, because of the First Amendment.

So when the city said we couldn't sell Darwin fish, the solution was obvious. My boss Jay announced that we're now running an unlicensed free speech fish stand.

You want Darwin? We've got yer Darwin, right here, alongside all our hand-made sacrilegious fish, and Jay's lesbian poetry zine. We've also talked about eventually selling bumper stickers, baseball caps, t-shirts, whatever. We can do it, so long as every item makes a political or religious point, and so long as the US Constitution is still in effect.

The only drawback is, since we're unlicensed now, we can't participate in the morning draw for sidewalk space. We can only sell in empty spaces, and if a licensed vendor claims our space, we're supposed to yield.

It ain't quite fair, but anyone willing to endure the tedious and time-consuming lottery or sign-in procedure should get the spot they've signed for, so I'll yield. Umberto yields almost every day. I can get used to it too, but it is a pain in the arse.

♦ ♦ ♦

Which brings us to today, my second day selling without a license:

I was bumped thrice. Someone tapped me on the shoulder, said I was in his space, so I packed and relocated. Then a second someone complained, so I relocated again. When I was later told to move a third time, I said adios instead, because the afternoon was mostly over anyway. I simply packed up and wheeled the cart away.

It takes up to fifteen minutes, though, to clear and fold the table and bungee everything together. After that it can take another fifteen minutes, or longer, to find an empty space and settle into it.

♦ ♦ ♦

When I mentioned the wasted time to Jay in my post-day debriefing, she had an idea. She often has ideas, and good ones, too. She thought we could buy a new pushcart setup, something that would be ready to roll more quickly, in seconds instead of minutes. And off we went, to a hardware store.

For $50 or so, she bought a great big Rubbermaid cabinet. The plan was, I'd lash to the hand-truck tomorrow, instead of the folding table I've been using. The fish would be displayed on top of the cabinet, and then stashed inside when it was time to move the cart or wheel it away, allowing me to make a much quicker exit.

Well, that was the original plan, but…

Somewhere between buying the Rubbermaid thing and locking everything up for the night, Jay had a few more ideas, which I'm not sure will be workable.

Jay thinks the cabinet should be open on the Avenue, on top of the table, to display a variety of new things we'll be selling. This means the current table and bags will still be part of my setup and takedown, so it'll still take plenty of time — more time than it's taken in the past.

And I'm skeptical about the new merchandise. Umberto told me yesterday, and I told Jay, that on a free speech table, everything has to be outrageous. If it's ordinary stuff, the city will say it's commerce, not free speech, and hassle our asses off.

Well, Jay has brought in a supply of books and plastic knickknacks and such, and most of it's cute, but it's only merchandise. The books she wants me to sell are mostly science fiction, because Jay loves sci-fi, but I haven't read them, and wonder if they're political enough to clear the city's clipboard schmucks.

The knickknacks are silly things from a novelty supplier, and again, I'm skeptical. Plastic statuettes of Clara, the so-called patron saint of television? Priest and nun salt and pepper shakers? Kaleidoscopes with pictures of naked women inside, instead of purdy colors and geometry?

It's all amusing, but is it outrageous enough to keep the City of Berkeley at bay? Unsure. Jay isn't worried about it, though, so tomorrow I'll be selling Darwin fish, other fish, lesbian poetry, twenty different sci-fi books, and oodles of doodads. 

I ain't wild about it.

From Pathetic Life #16
Friday, September 1, 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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