Cops and Christians

Walking to work, pushing my cart full of fish and fish supplies, a police cruiser pulled up beside me at the light. 

Maybe I haven't mentioned it for the past few pages, but I don't like cops. Everything you've seen on Dragnet to the contrary, having a police officer around usually means trouble, and often the cops don't ease the trouble, they create it, exacerbate it. If that's not their job, a lot of cops think it's their job.

A squad car idling beside me wasn't the best possible start to my day, but my worries were only psychosomatic, so far.

When the light changed, I pushed the cart onward, being careful to roll between the crosswalk's white lines... and the cop car kept pace with my walking. And that was more than psychosomatically weird. There was next-to-no traffic, and cars generally move faster than I walk.

Sweating, I glanced over and saw only one cop, the driver. Usually they travel in pairs. We made eye contact, because he was watching me more than the road.

Past the bus stop, past the book store, with every step the police car was beside me, driving 5 mph in a 25 zone, eyeballing me. 

Generally, I'm an innocent man, and yet all my petty crimes flashed before me. A month or so ago, I hopped a BART gate. When I moved to Cali from Seattle, an unpaid citation was left behind. I do puff pot, but rarely, and today there was not only none on me, there was an extra stash of none at home.

But this cop in a car was studying me like I was Al Capone, or a pretty woman, and it was making me nervous. I would've bolted across someone's lawn if I hadn't had the fish cart with me. And if it wasn't a cop harassing me, I would've picked up a thick stick that was lying on the sidewalk, for defense.

But you don't do anything like that while the long arm is staring you down. Instead I stopped, stepped in front of the fish-cart, leaned on a wall as peaceable as possible, and smiled at the officer.

He stopped the squad car, leaned across the seat, and rolled down his shotgun window. "Hello," he said, toothy grin and all friendly like.

"What do you want?" I hollered, which in retrospect was stupid. Anything I said should've been said softly. 

I did have the presence of mind to stay perfectly still, though. Too many news accounts say that the dead guy made a 'threatening' move, so I was a damned statue. Birds could've crapped on my shoulder.

"Relax," the policeman said, but his smile was gone. It sounded like he was going to say more so I waited, but that's the only word he said to me.

Maybe this would end more quickly, I thought, if I answered all the questions he hadn't asked, so I said, "I'm a street vendor," and very, very slowly pointed at the fish-cart. "Licensed and everything. I am pushing the cart to Telegraph Ave to set up shop, and I don't need a police escort." This, I said at a more reasonable tone.

At that he smiled again, sat up straight and drove away, 25 mph. No nod, no wave, no explanation, no apology. No doubt he was in a hurry to frighten someone else.

Inwardly I was shaking, wondering what that had been about. And would he be back to bug me later on the Avenue, where I'd dumbly told him I'd be? And would he be watching me again tomorrow morning? 

Onward I rolled the cart, replaying the scene in my head, keeping my eyes open for more possible trouble, and thanking Jesus himself that I'm not black, so it's not ordinary to have lawmen watching my every move.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

And what was waiting for me when I reached Telegraph Ave? Not cops. Seven god damned Christians, armed with amplifiers, preaching and singing hymns at the corner.

When preachers set up on the sidewalk they're there for the whole damned day, so just hearing them annoyed the bejeebers out of me. Then I listened to Jesus talk, amplified, all day. I wanted to send them to their heavenly reward a few years early. 

Freedom of speech is something I believe in, almost without limits, but I do not believe in freedom of electrically amplified speech in a crowded public space where nobody wants to hear what you're saying.

♦ ♦ ♦  

The cart's fish equipment always includes a few folders filled fat with sushi. That's whet I call our raw fish stickers, before they're scissored. They're flat sheets of mylar crowded with fish designs, and between customers I sit at the table and snip snip snip fish stickers out of those shiny silver and gold sheets of mylar.

This produces mylar leftovers, and these scraps are sticky-backed like the fish, so to vent my anger at the Jesus freaks, I used a permanent marker to make lots of mini-stickers. Each of them said things like, "Jesus is dead, and so's his old man," "To hell with God," "Jesus farts," "Christ stinks," "Jesus fucked my chihuahua," and whatever other childish slogans would fit onto the scraps. 

I offered my dumb anti-Christ stickers as a free bonus to people who bought fish, but there are a dozen mini-stickers and two mini-magnets left over. They're too radical to display on the fish-stand (like I need more angry Christians in my world?), so if you'd like one, say so next time you send $3 for an issue, and I'll slip one into the envelope.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

And behold, the Christians kept preaching, switching to a new preacher every fifteen minutes or so for the entire day. Great frustration was begatted.

Two of the seven preachers preached in Spanish, and that's preferable, because I don't speak the language so it's just noise, and my brain doesn't try to make it make sense. 

Morning, midday, and afternoon, only four people stopped to talk with the preachers. Nobody got on their knees or anything. Dozens of people yelled at them, shook their heads 'no', and a few flipped them off, but not enough.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The preachers at least took my mind off the cop who'd shadowed me this morning. Thinking it over tonight, my logical mind says I must've looked like someone they wanted, and when I stopped and gave the cop a good look at my face, he knew I wasn't Baby Face Nelson or whoever.

If I let myself get paranoid, though, worse things are possible. Cops are notoriously right-wing, reactionary, conservative, and Christian in the worst sense of that word. Maybe me or my fish offended the wrong Christian, and that wrong Christian mentioned it to his buddy the cop, and there'll be more cops in my future.

With that worry, I did what I do with any big things that are out of my control… I nudged it into a back corner in my mind, locked it inside a box, and forgot what's in the box. Or tried to.

From Pathetic Life #18
Friday, November 17, 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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