Flank and Larry

A cop on a ten-speed bike stopped a homeless person, and gave him a ticket for jaywalking. That's bogus, of course, and beyond bogus. If police fairly enforced the jaywalking law on Telegraph Avenue, they'd be writing tens of thousands of tickets every day, shoppers would stop coming downtown, businesses would close, and capitalism would crumble.

Cops just about never ticket someone for jaywalking, for jaywalking. Getting that ticket means you're too black, too poor, or too scruffy, and the cops want you out of Berkeley's best shopping neighborhood.

The ticketed man was all three — black, poor, and scruffy. He goes by the name Flank, and he's somewhat known to me; harmless and sometimes strange, sometimes funny, but not intentionally. He's one of those guys who's about 15% absent, if you know what I mean.

The cop, having heroically made the streets safe for nobody, mounted his bike and rolled off. Flank walked away from the encounter shaking his head and looking at the ticket.

As he came toward my table, I flagged him over, and asked what had happened. He said he'd been sitting on the sidewalk across the street, and that's all — just sitting — when the cop rolled up and told him to move along.

"Jesus Christ," Flank said he said, "I can't even sit on the sidewalk?"

"Nope," he said the cop said.

Flank said he said, "You're a fuckin' asswipe," but he gathered his stuff and walked away, as ordered. He crossed Telegraph against no traffic at all, and that's when the cop stopped him and ticketed him.

"Typical," I said, and for commiserating, Flank handed me the ticket. The current price for saying 'asswipe' to a cop is $105.

I gave the ticket back to him, or tried to, but Flank said, "I don't want it."

"Well, I sure don't want it," I said, so he took it and crumpled it and dropped it into a trash can. For that I gave him the candy bar from my lunch sack. He walked away chewing and smiling, and I went back to my work, selling fish novelties, but still thinking things over.

Piss off a cop, you get a ticket.

Piss off a cop too much, and you'll be arrested for "interfering with a police officer."

If the cop is in a bad mood and punches you, that's "assaulting a police officer."

A minute or a few later, Larry came over. The whole incident with Flank and the cop had started in front of Larry's table, on the other side of the street, and he asked what Flank had said, so I gave him the rundown, second-hand.

"Yeah, that's what happened," Larry said. "He called a cop an asswipe, so he deserved the ticket."

"Now hold on," said I. "If you're saying it's stupid to call a cop names, of course it is, but you're not really saying someone deserves a fine for insulting a cop." I didn't ask it as a question, because I was under the impression that Larry was a decent guy.

"Fuckin' A, I think I am saying that," he said, leaving me not quite speechless but unsure what to say next.

There was nothing else to say, really. I'm not gonna argue the Constitution with some schmuck on Telegraph, so I sat down behind my table, picked up the book I'm reading, and waved him away.

Not sure whether I've mentioned Larry in the zine before. He's just another vendor on Telegraph, someone I've had a few passing conversations with. Wouldn't have guessed he's a fascist, but he showed me who he is today, as plainly as if he'd been wearing a brown shirt and doing the ninety-degree Sieg Heil salute.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Business was sucky all day, not just for me, but for everyone up and down Telegraph. I'm not sure why — the weather was downright summery, but the customers haven't thawed for springtime.

♦ ♦ ♦  

A few other moments from Saturday on the Ave:

• There are always a dozen teenagers who want to come off as homeless, but they're dressed too well for the role. Today two of them got into a fistfight, and rolled around briefly on the sidewalk, knocking over the trash can with Flank's ticket in it, and calling each other posers, which made me giggle.

• Some college boy said he'd forgotten his bike lock, and offered me two dollars to watch his bicycle while he went into the store in front of my table. I said no, but watched his bike. Jeez, I'm poor, but not so poor I can't do such a tiny kindness without cash recompense.

• Two middle-aged bums walked by, moving slowly enough that I caught this from their conversation: "Oh, yeah, I could hang with Tori Amos. I could have a long conversation with her," stretching the 'o' in long around the block. The other bum laughed, and then they were gone, but I don't think Tori Amos would hang with them.

From Pathetic Life #24
Saturday, May 4, 1996

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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