Copping to cops

Some people want to make cops out to be the villains. The oppressors. The enforcers of the “police state. And there’s some truth and validity to that outlook. Myself?? I mostly look at cops as the referees. The umpires. Somebody has to make those judgment calls.
People see cops as heroes or villains and everything in between. I mostly see them as social garbage-collectors. They get called in to try and clean up society’s messes.
I once read this survey of cops where the cops themselves claimed that 20% of the cops weren’t fit to be cops. They were too dumb or lazy or had bad judgment or were lousy at dealing with people or had weird attitudes. I mean cops are basically just a cross-section of human beings — the good and the bad and everything in between.

So I keep that survey in mind, every fifth interaction I have with a cop.

The cops main job — like the sports referee — is to maintain the social order, and enforce the rules and the laws. And I guess therein lies the rub. Because many people on the bottom of society feel the laws are written specifically to oppress them, and benefit the rich. But it’s important to remember: The cops don’t write the rules. They only enforce them. Though they do have a certain amount of lee-way as to precisely HOW they enforce them. And the cops have to make zillions of judgment calls every day they’re on the job. And sometimes they have to make split-second judgment calls while in the middle of highly stressful, and even dangerous, situations. All the while knowing that every judgment call they make will be second-guessed by somebody.

The better cops know that there’s “the letter of the law” and “the spirit of the law.” And have an intuitive sense of when to apply one or the other. It’s like a basketball referee — technically they could call a foul on every play. But the good ones have a feel for the flow of the game, and they interpret the rules with that in mind.
Many people think the job “inordinately attracts people who are bullies or thugs and like to beat people up.” And I’m sure the job certainly attracts a certain amount of bullies who enjoy wielding power over others. But it also attracts many other types. My older brother was a cop for a couple of years when he was a young man. And he was what you might call a “boy scout” type. He legitimately wanted to help protect the people from the bad guys and all that.  Then there are others who want to be a cop simply because they’re attracted to the excitement. And then there are others that see it simply as a decent job where they can make a living and support their families. 
I don’t know, it’s a complicated subject. Of course I’m mostly like Bukowski:  “I got nothing against cops. I just feel better when they’re not around.”

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


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.


The action never stops at the Berkeley Public Library



You get the feeling with some people, their reputation precedes them. . .

This afternoon I’m at the library. And the Berkeley Library can often resemble an open air mental ward (needless to say I feel right at home). This guy is on one of the computers, listening to headphones. Black guy, about 30, with bleached blonde hair. He’s got his back to me, so I can’t see his face. But I can sure hear him. Everyone in the room can hear him.

He’s making these loud, wailing, anguished crying, sobbing sounds. Then he starts laughing hysterically, this loon laughter. Then he starts babbling to himself in this loud, discordant voice. Then he goes back to crying. Back and forth like that. Non-stop. For quite some time.

So I’m wondering why one of the librarians doesn’t go over there and tell him to be quiet. Then I notice these three guys standing about 20 feet behind him by the railing. Staring at him intently and talking into walkie-talkies.

About 5 minutes later three cops show up. They walk up to him very cautiously. Sort of surround him — one cop to the left, one to the right, and one right behind him. The cops tell the people sitting at the computers nearby him that they need to get up and leave. Then one of the cops softly says;

“Excuse me sir, you’ve got to get up and leave the library.”

The guy ignores the cops. Continues to babble away on his headphones.

The cop repeats: “You’ve got to leave.”

“No no, it’s all right,” says the guy.

You can see the cops stiffen. For a LONG solid minute it looks like a stand-off and that he’s going to resist the cops.

Finally, he stands up. And they surround him and quietly escort him to the stairs and out of the building.

You get the feeling they’ve had previous dealings with that guy.


Hate Man gets crunched yet again in People’s Park



The cops just crunched Hate Man. They claimed he had “too much stuff.” And gave him a “trespassing” ticket (??). And a “7-day stay-away.” And ran his ass out of People’s Park.

Its totally arbitrary. Hate Man isn’t doing anything different from what he’s been doing for the last 10 years. But this particular cop decided to crunch Hate Man’s ass. For whatever reason.

There’s often not a lot of rhyme or reason to life on the streets. There’s no rule book. Its often just the whims of the moment.

The “trespassing” ticket, by the way, is ridiculous.  How the hell can you be trespassing when you’re hanging out in a public park during the daytime just like everybody else in the park?




Another victory for Hate Man


Good news on the Hate Man front:

For the last year, UC Berkeley has been crunching Hate Man heavily, trying to ban him from People’s Park for “lodging.” They had given him 9 tickets over the last year, mostly for minor bullshit. And were putting constant legal pressure on him from every angle (they really did want to drive his ass out of here — they consider him the “ringleader” of the whole mad scene). And Hate was prepared to go to jail rather than accept the ban if he lost the case.

On Friday Hate Man had to go to court yet again. And he showed up armed with four lawyers — his own personal Dream Team. The prosecuter was all set to start picking the jury and preparing for what would be a long trial. But at the last second UC caved. They decided to drop all the charges. So it really was a Good Friday for ole’ Hate Man.





Last night



There was a weird electricity in the air last night.  Who knows why.   Maybe it was the 80 degree heat during the day.  Or the full moon at night.  Or the crickets that were chirping louder than I’ve ever heard them chirp, churning out this relentless subliminal rhythm. Me, Hate Man and Odd Sod were sitting around on crates in People’s Park talking about “the historical Jesus,” of all things.


“Some people think Jesus really didn’t exist,” I said.  “But I always felt the sayings he came up with were so profound, it must have been a real person who came up with them.  I couldn’t imagine a storyteller fabricating them.”

“Yeah,” said Hate Man.

“Of course if I’m not mistaken, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were written 100 years after Jesus’s death,” I said.  “So it’s not like the Bible is an eye-witness account.”

“I believe Mark was 60 years after Jesus,” said Odd Sod.

“I read one book about the historical Jesus where the writer speculated that Jesus was primarily a political figure. A Jewish street-corner rabble-rouser,” I said.  “Kind of like a Trotsky or Abbie Hoffman type.”

“It’s true Jesus was getting jammed up on the political level,” said Hate Man.  “He had the Romans after him, that’s for sure.”

“And he was getting jammed up on the religious level, too with all the rabbis after his ass for defying the orthodox teachings of the times.  The stuff that later became the Old Testament,” I said.

“I believe all the stuff in the Bible actually happened,” said Hate Man.

“Even as a lot of it is pretty unbelievable. Like that fish-and-loaves stuff,” I said.

“I believe all the miracles happened,” said Hate Man.  “The fish-and-loaves.  The walking-on-water.  The virgin birth.  Yogis and advanced beings can do that stuff.  Manifesting food and stuff like that.”

“The virgin birth thing was the one I could never figure out,”  I said.  “I mean, Mary is married to Joseph so how come she was still a virgin?  Some honeymoon they must have had. And then when she gets pregnant she says, ‘Believe it or not, Joe, I’m still a virgin.  I wasn’t fooling around with other guys.  It was God who knocked me up.’  And you’re telling me ole’ Joseph bought that line? Su-u-ure!”

Before I could continue with my lame attempts at shtick, four plain-clothes cops suddenly swooped down on our merry little scene. One of the cops beamed his flashlight in my face.

“Is that your beer there, sir” said the cop, pointing to the beer bottle by my foot.

“Nope.  That’s not mine. It’s somebody else’s,” I said.  Which was a pretty dumb thing to say.  But I couldn’t think of anything particularly clever off the top of my head that would talk the cop out of giving me an open container ticket.

“Then how come all those beer bottles are lying right there where you’re sitting?”  said the cop.

“I’m sure there’s an explanation for that,” I said, gamely.  And left it at that.

“Could I see your ID, sir?”  said the cop.

I gave him my ID and he started running my name over the wire and writing up my ticket.  So now we’re all sitting there, sort of frozen.  That awkward period where you have to try and act normal while the cops are hovering around taking care of their business.  For lack of anything better to do, I continued my conversation with Hate Man about “the historical Jesus.”  I figured maybe the cops would hear me and think I’m an intellectual or something, as opposed to a run-of-the-mill bum, and spare me a ticket.

No such luck.  “Would you sign your name in the box at the bottom of the ticket,” said the cop.

“Surely,” I said.

“Thanks for being so cooperative,” said the cop as they made their exit.

“Sure thing,” said.  I turned back to Hate Man and said, “They’re just doing their jobs.” Which is basically my attitude towards cops.  And went back to drinking my beer.

But then, not 5 minutes later, four different plain-clothes cops suddenly came swooping down on us. I couldn’t believe my eyes.  Usually after the cops crunch you, they leave you alone for the rest of the night, figuring they’ve inflicted enough misery and justice for one evening.

“Is that your beer?”  said the cop.

“Yes, it is,” I said.

“Could I see your ID, sir,” said the cop. She was a young woman cop.  Early 20s.

“You’re not gonna’ give me another ticket, are you?”  I said.  “I just got a ticket for this beer 5 minutes ago.  You can’t give me two tickets for the same beer.”

“Yes we can,” said one of the cops.

“This is unbelievable!”  I said.  “The cop who gave me the ticket said I could finish my beer.”  (Technically, this was a lie.  But cops often do say that. After giving you a ticket they’ll at least let you finish your beer as a consolation prize. And I was desperate to think up any line that would spare me a second ticket.)

“Here!” I said, handing the cop my first ticket.  All the information she needed was already on that ticket (I’m here to help).

“This is unbelievable.  You can’t give me two tickets for the same beer!”

The cop didn’t say anything.  Aside from, “Have a nice evening, sir,” as the cops cheerfully made their exit.

“AND YOU HAVE A NICE EVENING, TOO!!” I sneered, loudly.  Usually I’m obsequious with the cops.  But not this time.

“She was a trainee,” said Odd Sod.  “The other cops were taking the rookie around to teach her the ropes.”

“Yeah.  And use me as a guinea pig to practice on,” I said.  “I can’t believe it.  I go three years without getting a ticket.  And now I get two tickets in five minutes!!”

I stormed off towards my campsite.  And in the back of my mind I kept thinking about the 48 hours of community service I was going to have to do to pay off the tickets.  And the $100 in paperwork fees and other expenses I’m going to have to fork over.  And having to get my ass up at 5 in the morning to make it down to the Oakland courtroom.  And it lent a very sour after-taste to the evening’s festivities.

*                                 *                                         *

By the time I got up to my campsite it was after midnight. It was still hot and I had worked up a sweat, even though I was only wearing a shirt, no jacket.  One of those nights.   My two favorite feral cats, Blondie and Moo Cat, were patiently waiting for me as usual.  After I laid out my bedding and took off my shoes, I took out a big bag of food for my cats that I had pain-stakingly gathered during the day.  Big slabs of roasted chicken, bacon and cheddar cheese (nothing but the best for my feral cats).  So at least the day was ending on a nice note.

But no!  After only a couple of gobbles of the food, Moo Cat suddenly stiffened and started growling at something off in the distance.  Which could only mean one thing.  Raccoons!  A pack of raccoons suddenly descended on the food.  My two cats immediately sprinted off into the darkness in a panic.  Now there was no way to salvage the food for the cats.  So I picked up big chunks of the food and started flinging it all over the woods.  Then I chased after the raccoons in a murderous rage, in my bare socks, throwing sticks and branches and rocks at them as I ran, loudly cursing:  “GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE!!  GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE!!”  The raccoons were stunned and scampered down the hill, with me in hot pursuit.  Usually I have a live-and-let-live attitude towards the raccoons. But not tonight.  I had snapped.

As I trudged back to my campsite I suddenly realized I had stepped into something soggy. It was a big pile of the cat food.  “FUCK!”  I said.  It never ends.  I took off my soiled socks and flung them into the woods.  So now it was like a comedy of errors.  The endless series of stupidities that was my life.


I laid down on my blankets, but I was too amped up to sleep.  So I took out my cell phone and posted several important and amusing comments on my Facebook page that I’m sure I would regret the next morning when I was sober.  Finally, fell asleep.  And I dreamed these weird, vivid and bizarre dreams all night long.

One of those night.













More Pathetic Whining from ol’ Ace Backwords

(Originally published April 24, 2006)

I’m gonna be 50 in a couple months, and I kinda’ feel like the rug has been pulled out from under me. The world I used to live in is gone. And yet, here I am, still walking around in it like a ghost. I came to Berkeley 30 years ago looking for the ’60s counterculture. But that’s long gone. For a while I was part of the Telegraph Avenue street scene; there was a bohemian magic to the scene for most of the ’90s. But now, there’s hardly anything left but a bunch of bums flopped out on the sidewalk.

I often say to myself: “I went from up-and-coming to down-and-out with no flowering period in between.” And that’s sort of the feeling. I still look at all the beautiful young girls who pass by, who used to dance around my world. But now I’m just a tired old man.  The young girls inspire feels of pathetic regret more than longing.

Yesterday, Sunday, was the People’s Park 37th Anniversary concert. It was a tired affair.  The same bands did the same ten songs they’ve been playing for the last 10 years. At the end of the Funky Nixons set, the singer called out to the throngs: “FUCK THE POLICE!”  The heroic battle cry of Berkeley’s fabled radical past. But it had all the impact of a bratty child repeating a dirty word for effect; not even shocking, just sort of: “Yeah, yeah, heard that one before…” Wavy Gravy was walking around amidst the sparse crowd dressed in his clown suit doing his tired act. He’s a gray, little old man  now. Wasn’t it just yesterday he was a young hippie heralding a Great New Day from the stage of Woodstock? Oh well. I guess we ate too much of the brown acid.

I stumbled across a flyer from a People’s Park benefit show from 37 years ago. I guess it was 1969, that fabled year. It was billed as “People’s Park Bail Ball.” I guess it was to help raise money for the Berkeley activists that got arrested in the great People’s Park Riots. Oh what exciting times they were. Topping the bill, believe it or not, were: The Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Credence Clearwater Revival, Elvin Bishop, and others. And the price was — get this — $3. What, no Funky Nixons? Why, I wouldn’t pay more than $2.50 for a line-up like that. My, how times change. But the flyer was like a before-and-after picture of the People’s Park scene. What was then and what is now.

Tonight, Jane Fonda was appearing at Cody’s Books on the Ave plugging her latest book.  People were lined up in the store as she sat at a table signing books. People were looking at her and gawking and pointing and giggling like she was an exotic zoo animal for public inspection. Weird. “Its Jane Fonda! Can I pet her!”  She looked like a handsome, dull, glazed, well-preserved, middle-aged housewife. No Barbarella suit tonight. The people in the crowd were mostly graying, affluent-looking Boomers. I guess the Boomer Generation has done boomed. In Berkeley you’re doomed to endless succession of ’60s retreads coming to town to tell their exciting stories of those exciting days of the ’60s.  What exciting days they were.

I guess its all in how you look at it. Mostly, I look at it from a negative point of view.  Aside from these occasional exalted visions that take me all the way to heaven. But not tonight. Now I’m going back to the office and sip on a 16 ounce can of Old English malt liquor. And nurse my wounded pride.