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Permit to Place Object on Sidewalk

It rained and rained today, not a gentle mist and not like Seattle, but by mid-day on the Avenue I was drenched. I've been wearing my dead dad's shoes for a year, but it wasn't until today that I noticed my socks are visible through the soles. It rains here so rarely that I don't own a raincoat, so I wore a sweater on top of another sweater, and they might as well have been sponges.

There's no awning or anything, so there aren't many customers at a souvenir stand outdoors when it's raining. I was simply wet and waiting and wondering what flu or pneumonia was soaking into me. I would've closed the stand and come home early, only there was a major development looming in the fish fights.

First, an apology: It's flat-out pathetic that I'm still talking about fish politics, but I've told you everything so far and we're approaching what let's hope is the end of the story, so yawn twice and read along, please:

Jay told me this morning that someone from the city had phoned her, and told her that our "free speech" permission slip would be hand-delivered to the fish-cart at 3:30. So despite nearly no sales, I couldn’t go home early, and sat in the rain waiting for the appointed time.

After three months of monotonous runaround, it wouldn't have surprised me if the delivery had been a no-show, but alert the media: At 3:47 this afternoon, it became legal fer me to display and sell the anti-Christian Darwin fish, mass-produced and purchased at wholesale, alongside Elvis and LSD and all the other sacrilegious fish stickers and magnets we make ourselves.

The city inspector — same schmuck who'd given me trouble before (8/30, 9/6, 9/23, etc) drove up in a snazzy white city car, illegally parked in the left-turn lane, and whistled me over like I'm a cocker spaniel. I approached, and he handed me the piece of paper we'd sought for so long I'd thought it was fictitious — a Permit to Place Object on Sidewalk.

There should've been a bright light shining down from the heavens, with a choir of angels singing hosannas. Praise the Mayor and her many minions.

As I stood in the rain, the schmuck inside explained the complicated rules governing free speech in Berkeley from the warmth and dryness of his official car, as cars honked and swerved past:

• Everything we sell must always and only pertain to freedom of religion (the fish) or gay rights (Jay's chapbook).

• We're not allowed to sell any of the other things Jay wanted to sell — the candles and knickknacks and all (9/2).

• Anything else we might want to sell is subject to the same approval process by the city (meaning, months of dithering).

• The cart can only be set up on one specific corner, the "free speech corner," and the permit is invalid if the cart is anywhere else.

That last restriction, by the way, seems unlikely. The only way I could ensure finding a spot on the corner specified on the permit would be to be there by 7AM, which is hours before I get to the Avenue. So I'll probably ignore that stupid stipulation.

"Wow," I said to the inspector schmuck, "I'm sure glad the First Amendment has kept freedom of speech so sacred." The man is none to clever, though. He made a face at me, but it's the same bored and annoyed face he always makes, and I don't believe he caught my sarcasm.

Jay had wanted to see this grand moment, the culmination of far too much effort she'd put into fighting City Hall, so she joined me on the Avenue at about 2:20. I was glad she was there, to prevent me from strangling the city employee as he recited all the stipulations. His list, I should mention, was about twice as long as what I typed. I left out all the stuff so obvious it didn't need to be said.

When he was done, Jay shook the schmuck's hand, something I certainly wouldn't have done. As he drove away, we closed the stand, because the non-stop drizzle made it stupid to be open for business. Jay gave me a lift home, stopping at her place to drop off the cart, and at a hardware store, where she bought some flower pots and I bought a $2 parka for the next time it rains.

Then Jay took us to dinner, and we talked of fishes and free speech until I was dry, and full. As we ate, Jay described what we both hope will be her last phone call with the city's regulators, when they'd called her this morning.

The official on the phone had told her that while our free speech table had been approved, the permit could be revoked at any time, because, quote, "The city is reconsidering this whole 'free speech' thing. It's such a hassle."

Those were his exact words, Jay said. Ain't that something? Free speech is such a hassle, Berkeley is reconsidering the concept.

From Pathetic Life #19
Friday, Dec. 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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