Mr LaRue's office

Like the good citizen she is, Jay traipsed to the city's Transportation and Infrastructure Commission this morning, to meet with Frank LaRue and get his blessing for our free speech booth on Telegraph Ave.

She invited me to come with her downtown, but Fuck no. My tolerance for jumping through bureaucratic hoops is about half a hoop. So I wasn't there to see any of this, but Jay's a reliable source, and here's what she says happened:

At Mr LaRue's office, she was told that he's on vacation and won't be back for three weeks. In his absence, nobody else is authorized to sign the forms and/or grant what's called a "Permit to Place Object on Sidewalk."

Mr LaRue's receptionist, though, says we'd only need that form if we were handing out free literature, and not selling anything. We're the opposite of that; no free literature, and everything's for sale, so she says we'd need a vendor's license instead.

A vendor's license, of course, is what the fish cart already has, and we don't want it. Having a license means the city can tell us what we can and can't sell, like they've told us we can't sell Darwin fish. 

"We're free speech vendors," Jay says she told the lady, but the receptionist had never heard of vendors selling without a license, and didn't think it was legal. She simply gave Jay a copy of the pertinent ordinances, and sent her away.

Then Jay walked down a different hallway to see someone in the city's Department of Compliance with Asinine Rules, the bureaucracy that oversees street vendors. This was a mistake, Jay now agrees. She thought they'd be helpful, when we're trying to escape their petty rules? 

As Jay describes it, the scene grew ugly, and quickly. One of the city staffers said we're merchants, not covered by free speech, and threatened to bring "the full force of Berkeley law" down on us if we continue to sell without a license. It's unclear what "the full force of Berkeley law" might entail, but such threats work best when they're vague.

Jay has studied the ordinances she brought home, with me half-heartedly reading along. Near as we can make any of it make sense, the city's threat is in Section 12, Subsection 2:

"Anything placed or permitted to remain upon any sidewalk or roadway in violation of Section 12.1… is hereby declared to constitute a nuisance and the Police Department is hereby authorized and empowered to abate such nuisance by removing same to the custodian of lost property in the Police Department or the Corporation Yard of the City of Berkeley."

So they'll haul our stuff away, and probably haul my ass away too, if I'm deemed a nuisance?

I'd be proud to be a nuisance, but it all seems so ridiculous I'm tempted to laugh, not holler.

Free speech means speaking freely. It's not something you ask permission for.

My recommendation to Jay — both before and after her trip downtown — is to ignore all of it. The city schmuck who said to get Frank LaRue's permission is full of shit. Also, fuck Frank LaRue.

Umberto and several other free speech vendors never filled out forms, never got an OK from Frank LaRue, and they sell their wares on Telegraph, with no interference from the city. I can do that, too. Send me out to sell fish, same as ever, but as a free speech vendor, ignoring all the rules and regs. The city wouldn't do anything, same as they don't do anything to Umberto.

But — it's not my merchandise they'd confiscate, it's Jay's. I won't be paying any fines, she will. She's the boss, so what we do next is her decision, not mine.

For now, she says, we yield. I'm supposed to put the license back on the cart, take Darwin off display, and become a legal vendor again, until she consults a lawyer and knows better what's going on. 

Maybe that's wise. Maybe I care. Maybe.

I'm disgusted and bored by all of it, really. I'd like to sell fish on Telegraph, but as a job, not as a way of life, with all this daily drama that rules my waking hours. I am approaching total fish burnout, tired of wondering what the city will do next, what Jay will do next, and tired of typing the word 'fish' on these pages.

From Pathetic Life #16
Thursday, September 7, 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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