Rule Number One: NEVER throw a cigarette butt at a cop (inadvertent or otherwise)

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I offer up these savvy tips for successful street living, virtually free of charge.
Whenever I’m drinking late at night at this secluded spot on the campus — this second-floor balcony over-looked this trail below — I’ll think back to this time I was hanging out here 7 or 8 years ago.

I happened to toss my cigarette butt over the railing to the trail below. Something I normally don’t do. I loathe litter. But I was in a bad mood. It was after midnight and I had just drunk my last beer and smoked my last cigarette and I was flat broke and it was the middle of the winter and it was pouring rain. So now I was trapped on this balcony for the foreseeable future with no beer and no cigarettes and no nothing and my life was just a piece of shit that had amounted to nothing. So I was in a sour mood. So I just flung the cigarette butt over the railing in an act of defiance like “FUCK THIS WORLD!!”

Unbeknownst to me, there happened to be two cops walking on the trail below me. I don’t know if my cigarette butt hit the cops on the head. But at the least it must have come very close. Because the two cops immediately made a bee-line to where I was sitting on the balcony. And one of the cops was raging mad as a hornet. As if my tossed cigarette butt was an affront to his very manhood. And I — homeless degenerate lurking on the campus — represented everything vile and evil and wrong with our current society. In other words, he took it very personally.

“DID YOU THROW THAT CIGARETTE BUTT??” said the cop.

“Yes I did,” I admitted. The butt no doubt had the DNA of my saliva on it. So there was no way to avoid the rap.

“ARE YOU DRINKING??” said the cop.

“No. I already DRANK it all!!” I said, with real anger in my voice (I was still pissed about being out of beer).

“ARE YOU BEING A WISE-ASS??” said the cop.

“Not consciously,” I said.

So the cop started writing me up a $450 littering ticket.

“You’re not going to give me a littering ticket for one cigarette butt are you?” I said.

“I SURE AS HELL AM!!” said the cop, thrusting the little yellow citation at me.

So I ended up doing 45 hours of community service picking up litter and thousands of cigarette butts in the park to repay my debt to society. All because of that one lousy cigarette butt.

And it didn’t end there. That cop developed a personal vendetta against me. Every time I turned around he would show up. Catch me in the act of drinking in public. And hit me with a $250 “open container” ticket. He must have hit me with nearly 10 tickets over the course of the year. And one night he even gave me the flashlight treatment and hand-cuffed me and arrested me and hauled me down to the Berkeley police station where I spent the night in the drunk tank (the weird thing is I wasn’t even drunk at the time, I had just started on my first beer).

But then, over the course of the next year, over the course of all our interactions, I finally wore the cop down with my fabled charm. Or maybe he just forget what he was mad about me in the first place. And he actually started to feel friendly towards me. And whenever he’d see me he’d say “Hey Pete, how ya doin’?” with a beaming smile on his face. And we’d banter back and forth with a little friendly small-talk before we went our separate ways.

A fairly pleasant encounter with an Officer of the Law

 

It’s 9:30 at night and I’m just hitting the campus, carrying a 6-pack of beer (discreetly hidden in a black bag). When this cop happens to be walking right towards me (uh oh). Heavy-set guy. Looks like he’s maybe half-black, half-latino.

“You have a good night, Mr. Labriola,” he said as he passed me.

“You too,” I said.

“Hey, how did you know who I am?” I said.

“I’ve had at least a half-dozen interactions with you,” he said. “You were always very polite.”

“Oh,” I said. “You’ve got a better memory than me.”

“Ha ha,” he said.

“Well have a good night, cool cat,” I said.

“You too,” he said.

And I headed off to find a discreet place to drink my beer.

You know how it is. Some of my late-night interactions tend to be a bit of a blur in my mind. But it made me wonder. I like to think I’m a pretty inconspicuous person. But maybe I’m not as inconspicuous as I like to think I am.

*

I’m not anti-cop or pro-cop, by the way.  Being homeless, dealing with the cops is just like dealing with the rain.  It’s just one more Force of Nature that you have to deal with. And it’s really nothing personal. Usually.

One of my Facebook friends suggested that maybe the cop was familiar with me from reading about my exploits on my Facebook page or the internet. But one of the great things about being known by a pseudonym; it’s unlikely the cops would ever make the connection between “Ace Backwords” and my real name, the real person they deal with. And likewise, nothing would pop up if they happened to run “Ace Backwords” over the wire.

Cops, by the way, have a wide spectrum of opinions and attitudes about “the homeless.” Some are actually sympathetic. While others are outright hostile. Mostly I think they’re just weary and jaded about the whole thing. I mean for decades now, they’re the ones called in to deal with the problem. And they, more than anyone, know they have no solution. Other than to run the homeless off of one block. Only to have them turn up on the next block. 
 
There’s a weird bond — a weird connection — between the cops and the homeless street people. They’re one of the few indoors people that are privy to our world, after all. They work the street beat, just like the street people. And they’re among the few people that are out there with us after midnight. Rousting us at our campsites and hang-out spots, they’re more aware of how we actually live than most people. We’re like two competing teams — two competing armies — playing on the same playing field.

A slightly embarassing late-night encounter with an officer of the law

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Had a slightly embarrassing scene last night. It was well after midnight and I was quietly drinking my beer at a dark secluded spot on the Berkeley campus. When I suddenly got the dreaded cop flashlight in my face. It was some UC cop riding one of those electric golf cart things they use on the campus.

“Is it after curfew?” I said innocently.

“Yes it is,” said the cop.

“Well I’m out of here,” I said, earnestly. Good law-abiding citizen that I am, always eager and willing to comply with the laws of the land, and to cooperate with the officers of the law in any way I can.

I quickly packed up my stuff, grabbed my 6-pack of beer (hidden in a black bag) and my half-drunk coffee cup full of beer, and made my exit stage left.

“You have a good night, officer,” I said cheerfully.

“You too,” he said cheerfully.

And then I did what I usually do. I walked off the campus and walked several blocks up the street (far enough out of the cop’s range). And then snuck back on the campus so I could find another dark secluded spot on the campus to continue my drinking.

Except — by luck or design — the cop in the electric cart just happened to have followed me up the campus. And now was driving right towards me. As I was walking right towards him. Carrying my 6 pack of beer and my half-drunk cup of beer.

“I thought you said you were leaving the campus,” said the cop (not so cheerfully this time).

“I thought I was,” I said sheepishly.

I turned on my heels and headed towards the border-line that separated the campus from the city of Berkeley as quickly as I could before I got a fucking ticket for drinking my fucking beer on the fucking campus after fucking curfew.

And this time I headed even farther up the road until I got to a part of the campus that couldn’t be accessed by those fucking electric carts. And drank the rest of my beer in peace. The end.

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Beer and Pot

Marijuana jointI’ve been drinking in public just about every night for the last 15 years.  I don’t have an apartment and I’m too claustrophobic to drink in bars so thats what I do.  Drink under the stars as the gods of alcohol intended.  I like to pound a few at the end of the day to relax and unwind and/or get some kind of demented buzz going.   Usually I like to drink about 96 ounces of malt liquor every night over a five hour period.  Thats four 24 ounce cans of  Olde English malt liquor, 7.5% alcohol content so its about twice as strong as regular beer.  “More bang for the buck,” as they say.  And I often like to smoke a couple of joints in between beers to add a touch of surreality to the proceedings.

I don’t know if this makes me an alcoholic.  My line is: “I’m a drunk not an alcoholic.”  Because that sounds less clinical and definitive.  I consider myself pretty much of a functional drunk. Or, at the least, a semi-fuctional drunk.   I’m usually a quiet, happy drunk.  And I like people more when I’m drunk so that really helps.  But lately I’ve been beginning to wonder.

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I got a little retarded last night. I was sitting on a dark, secluded bench on the Berkeley campus pursuing that chemically-induced state of happiness. Hoping to reach that coveted “I-don’t-give-a-flying-fuck” state as I call it.   Now to keep from getting drinking-in-public tickets I’m pretty discreet.  I pour some of the beer into a coffee cup and then hide the rest of the can inside my backpack.  This ploy usually works, but not last night.  For some reason I put the can of beer into my pack up-side down.  Something I realized shortly after when I reached into my pack and everything inside was soaked with beer, as well as my pack reeking of beer.  A tragic waste of malt liquor.

So I take that as a sign to get the hell out of there.  I walk up to the end of the campus to this lighted spot where I can survey the damage, dry off my shit, and pound my last beer of the night.  So I take all my soggy stuff out of my pack and reach for the last can of beer, only to realize I had left it back at the bench along with my bag of cat food.  So I quickly pack up my stuff and rush back to the bench to get it before somebody grabs it.  Fortunately its still there.  So I go from being a complete idiot to a guy who’s still on top of things and has his act together.  So I pour the beer into the cup, reach into my pack to take out my Sony Walkman so I can listen to some tunes, only to realize I had left my radio at the other spot.  So now I’ve got to quickly pack up my stuff AGAIN and rush back up to that spot to get my radio before somebody grabs it.  But when I get there the radio is already gone.  Fuck!  I’m starting to feel like a ping pong ball rushing back and forth from one mess up to another.

I’m sure there’s a moral to this story, but I’m not sure I want to know what it is.