By Benjamin Leatherman
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Troy Farah
By Roger Calamaio
By Mark Deming
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Brian Palmer
After 11:00 on any uneventful night, the bicycle ride to Circle K takes maybe 10 minutes, tops. And that includes stopping, avoiding eye contact with the crack dealers and the panhandlers and purchasing the beer.
The return trip, though, is a bit trickier. First, it is slightly uphill. Second, both leverage and balance are thrown off because you have to steer with one hand and hold the beer with the other. And these poorly lit back streets can be littered with broken furniture, beer bottles, wandering kittens and toys squeezed of every last drop of joy. Hitting any one of these objects can send the pavement rushing to your face and the beer bottle exploding in the street.
Sometimes deranged dogs with vicious teeth and pups to feed dart out of the shadows unexpectedly, fated for the flesh of your calves.
Even more problematic are the gangs lurking about, though most of them know me by now and usually just laugh at my hair when I ride by. There are the Ninth Streeters--erroneously dubbed the "Mexican Mafia" by some--who deal tar, rock and automatic weapons. A portion of my street, which doubles as a drive-through meth mart by night, is watched over by some suitably armed honchos. Some proceeds from said "drug store" go to mothers to feed their children.
Then there are the tragic ones who are actually living on meth and rock, the one stuttering inventions about needing money for gas because the car containing his homeless family of six is stranded nearby. On the outset, these gangly urchins float about like ghosts, faceless and unconsidered, with the temperament of tornadoes and crazy as the son of Superman.
But none of that stuff got in the way the other night. No, the other night was worse.
Around midnight, when riding home from the Circle K with beer in hand, contented and enjoying the stars, the cops pulled me over. I did nothing wrong.
I'll repeat: While innocently riding my bike, the cops pulled me over!
Soft, skinny white boy riding bicycle = Serious Fucking Danger to Community.
I didn't hear them roll up behind me. It was the abrupt ripple of fresh road kill--like blues and reds rushing my worl that scared the shit outta me--colors that had me thinking for a brief moment that a stray bullet had just parted my skull. Predictably, I wasn't all that relieved to see it was only the cops and not some solemn-looking gent wielding a scythe.
I pulled the bicycle over and dismounted. The cops stopped a few feet away. I stood there, waiting stupidly, one hand on my bike and the other around the beer. I was wearing black sweats, Mexican sandals and a white tee shirt that said "Jeff Dahl? LAMF" on the front.
A cop with a humorless, round face climbed out of the patrol car's passenger side. He looked at the 40 of King Kobra I was holding and said, "That stuff'll kill ya. I wouldn't touch that stuff if ya paid me."
Who asked you? I thought, then said, "It's legal, ain't it?"
The other cop stepped around the front of the car and stood in front of me. "What are you doing in this neighborhood?" he asked. "You don't look like you are from around here."
Obviously I was a suspect for being a guy with white skin in a brown-skinned neighborhood who happened to look like a drug addict. Both of these cops were white.
Not saying anything, I guessed his next question correctly. "Do you do drugs, are you on drugs?" Taller Cop asked. He was staring unsparingly into my eyes. He looked older than the other cop, maybe 45 or so. His eyes were tired and dark. "Are you here looking for drugs?"
A beam from a flashlight stung my eyes. Round Face had to see my pupils, were they dilated?
I said, "I live up the street, and no, I ain't on drugs."
"Are you sure?" they said in unison.
"I drink. That is still legal, you know."
"Can I see your driver's license, please?" asked Taller Cop.
"Don't have one."
"Any ID whatsoever?"
Round Face kept his eyes on me and moved his head slightly back, as if to add a sense of drama to the scene. Taller Cop kept the questions coming.
"Do you even drive a car?"
"How do you get around?"
"I don't, except for beer and food. If I'm feelin' lazy, I got a bike."
Together the cops looked down at my bicycle, then back at me. They were clueless.
"Bill, what's your social security number?"
"Now how can you not know what your own social security number is?" That bothered Round Face. Both cops shook their heads in disbelief.
"Easy, I never use a social security number. Haven't since '90 when I worked in a yo-yo factory."
"Then what the hell do you do for a living?" asked Taller Cop. "Deal drugs?"
"Not much. Listen to records, Clash and Ramones mostly. Do some drinking on the side."
"What about taxes, don't you pay taxes?"
"Don't really think about it. If you guys think I ain't payin' my fair share of your salary, I'll gladly cough up the 32 cents I have in my pocket. That would probably square us for a while."