Inspector Benji

On Telegraph Ave, the Inspector came by today, not to hassle me, but to hassle Brenda, and he did it drive-by. At a red light, he simply rolled down the driver's window on his large, city-owned sedan, and from the second lane of traffic, he boomed, "Excuse me, Ma'am," at Brenda.

It had to be at Brenda, since she was the only "ma'am" vendor on our side of the street, unless you count Jasper in his dress-like burlap bag that comes to his knees.

Brenda put down the art she'd been working on and turned to face her accuser, and I guess they'd met before. "What is it today, Benji?" she said.

Still sitting in the car in traffic, Inspector Benji said sternly, "I've warned you about selling without a permit," but the light changed mid-sentence, so he drove away saying, "without a permit..."

Brenda is a criminal, of course. She sells her miniature artwork with a permit, so she's clearly a threat to the moral character of Berkeley, California. But a ticket is too costly to ignore, she said, so she packed her table and went to People's Park to eat her sack lunch.

When she came back, she opened her cart at a different location — the other side of the same street.

Disappearing for an hour and then setting up thirty paces away fooled Inspector Benji, though. He came back on a mission, asked a few vendors where she was. "I think she's gone home for the day," someone lied, when Brenda was actually right across the street, watching. And yet, the Inspector never found her.

They're not all idiots, but that particular Inspector is as dumb as a the clipboard he carries.  

♦ ♦ ♦ 

For a while in the afternoon, Brenda, Umberto, and I talked about the Inspectors. Of the three of us, I'm the only one with a permit.

Once in a great while, an Inspector will ask Umberto for his permit, and it's so funny I wish it happened more often. Umberto, see, doesn't cotton to being inspected. He becomes quite prickly and loud, and always explains to the Inspector that he's an American, that he has certain rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and he's out here pursuing happiness on Telegraph Ave because that's what the Declaration of Independence entitles him to.

It's Umberto's own Declaration, and it's lovely and never fails to flummox the Inspector, so the Inspector usually leaves him alone.

Maybe that's why Brenda got away unhassled this afternoon. The Inspector might've spotted Umberto, and decided to leave our whole block alone.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Fish sales have been lousy the past few weekends, and pessimistic me, I've been wondering whether we've saturated the local market for sacrilegious fish stickers and magnets.

Berkeley is only 100,000 or so souls, mostly college kids and college staff, and at some point everyone in Berkeley who wants a sacrilegious fish will have bought one from me.

"Maybe we've overfished these waters," I said to Umberto, but he pointed out that business has been slow for everyone on the Ave lately, not just me. He thinks that the recent spike in gas prices is keeping people from driving to Berkeley.

Makes sense, and what do I know from gasoline prices? I take the train or the bus everywhere I go. Haven't driven a motor vehicle since I parked mine in Fremont, and later sold it to George.

You could say that my car is BART and Muni, and it's a great car.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Checking my messages a block from the hotel, here's another voice mail from Corina. She says, again, that she's writing me a letter, and I'll have it in a few days.

It's a strange situation, getting stranger, even for someone strange like me.

Corina lives in Sacramento, reads my zine, and when she visited San Francisco for a weekend, we briefly met and had a few laughs.

Then we traded a few cordial letters, and in one letter I asked her for a date, to see the Spike & Mike festival of cartoons.

After that, her letters stopped. I haven't heard from her in a month, other than a voice mail a few weeks ago promising a letter which never came, and now a similar voice mail today, again promising a letter.

She's busy with her new job, she says, and I ain't offended or anything, but if the answer was 'yes' that would be a quick letter to write, or an easy voice mail message. Clearly, the answer is going to be 'no'. And anyway, the cartoon festival she wanted to see, the ostensible purpose of asking her out, closes in a few days.

Corina, this doesn't need to be difficult. You are not the first woman to not want a date with me — take a number and get in line. I've heard 'no' before, many times, and I can take it. I won't even cancel your subscription.

From Pathetic Life #24
Saturday, May 11, 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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