The free speech ghetto

It was as cold today as it had been wet yesterday, but at least it was dry, as the fish chronicles opened a new chapter at a new location.

Everyone with the city's permission to practice free speech is required to operate on one specific block of Telegraph Ave. It's the free speech ghetto, and I like it there.

Surrounded by crazies hawking subversive t-shirts and anarchist bumper stickers, one guy screaming that President Clinton should be impeached, another guy saying anyone who doesn't support the President is a fascist, yeah, it's more interesting than selling fish amidst all the just-plain merchants who sell pot pipes and belt buckles, candles and wood carvings, earrings and nose rings and cock rings, porcelain and pottery, silkscreened shirts and jackets, rhinestone-studded belt buckles, etc.

I'll maybe miss working around Hey and Midget and Very-Abdul and a few others, but it's time to make some new friends, and probably some new enemies.

Among the few vendors on this block that I know, one is Jasper, the asswipe so-called anarchist whose complaints to the city got Darwin banned, and started our permit problems. Working near him might be interesting, now that we have the same permission slip for free speech that he has.

Another familiar face is Umberto. He's a prickly guy who sells anarchist stickers and buttons wherever he wants, sometimes on the free speech block, but sometimes not. He has no license, and not even the Permit to Place Object on Sidewalk that Jay worked so hard to get for me. On principle, Umberto refuses to play the city's fill-out-the-form game, and I admire that, envy that. Hey, Umberto, I'm running low, can I borrow your principles some time?

Today I worked between Phil, the nut who told me our fish shouldn’t qualify as a free speech statement, and Gerry. Now, Gerry is a perfectly normal guy, selling perfectly normal pamphlets about how to grow marijuana without grow lamps, but today some schmuck wanted to take his picture. Gerry doesn't like having his picture taking, next to his advocacy pamphlets for illegal activity, so he said no — and the guy clicked his Polaroid anyway.

Gerry jumped out of his chair and charged at the man, and grabbed the snapshot before it had developed — and the camera. So of course, the guy who'd had the camera started yelling, and Gerry yelled at him, and it was very free speech indeed.

Gerry refused to return the camera unless camera guy promised not to take his picture, and camera guy wouldn't make that promise, so Gerry held on to his camera, and got half-heartedly chased around the street. Cue "Yakety-Sax."

Then Phil came over to play peacemaker. He's famous for his volume, and loudly took Gerry's side in the argument, screaming at the camera guy, and challenging him with, "Why don't you call a fuckin' cop?"

Maybe he meant it sarcastically, but after he'd yelled it several times, the camera guy said he would, and stomped off looking for the police. He came back ten minutes later with a cop, who patiently listened to everybody's story.

Actually, much as I hate cops, this one handled the situation pretty much perfectly. It is, you know, legal to take people's pictures if they're in public. Permission is granted, simply by being in public.

The cop explained this politely, and Gerry apologized, and returned the camera, even returned the snapshot, but the guy with the camera stood around and took several more pictures of Gerry, and said he's going to press charges.

For what, I don't know. A few minutes of playing tag on Telegraph? It's hard to fathom that any judge would listen to such a case, but this is America, land of lawyers.

♦ ♦ ♦  

And that was my first day in the free speech ghetto. I think I'll like it there.

From Pathetic Life #19
Saturday, Dec. 2, 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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