Just another day in the hood, Berkeley's South-side—my Lake Woebegone.
The last pile of putrid rubble from the Sequoia fire, en route to a concrete-lined Nevada dump which accommodates waste so toxic California won't take it, awaited one final photo-op.
On the way to shoot the last remains of the Sequoia, I skirted People's Park where I noticed something bizarre in the park—even for the goof-ball arena it has become—a single tent.
Pitching a tent, at any time, in the park is illegal. The tent was a few feet from the sign prohibiting the tent.
The tent was more than illegal. After a hundred Occupy tents in Civic Center Park were evicted weeks ago, and tent encampments at Cal's Sproul Plaza were also booted—tent-pitching in Berkeley become persona-non-tent.
But the People's Park tent- pitcher had not a clue. I know. I talked to the tentist, and she was as clueless as you get, from a life of harried homelessness.
Tent-girl turned out to be a petite young traveling woman, last encamped at Occupy Oakland. She wore the expressionless face of a depressive, and resisted my humor, in what was to be for me a day of not drawing a laugh—and worse.
I'm always kidding around with my sources, but I couldn't even get a smile, from the sad young woman.
Before leaving, I checked my park facts with the posted rules sign. Yep—no tents, which I relayed to her. "You'll probably just get a warning," I re-assured her, and she re-assured me she was keeping the tent up, once she finished erecting it, which I was interrupting.
Her tent bore an Occupy poster, but she said she was not occupying the park.
I was off for the Ave., and the Sequoia. On the way, I eyeballed the fishbowl of the Caffe Mediterraneum (that's when you press your nose to the Med door-glass, looking for inside action). The Med was dead.
Emerging from Bongo Burger, adjoining the park, I saw, first, the university police squad car, and then two officers near the tent. The officers will never know that I delivered the first warning to tent-girl, because they not only didn't like my jokes—they despised me.
I despised me. Nothing sucks like a failed comedian, which I know all too well from my failed night-club comedy career back in the late 70s.
Tent-girl had left her tent unattended while she went to the other end of the park, as a diminutive veteran Berkeley Cop-Watch videographer aimed his tiny camera at the imposing cops like a pea-shooter.
I tried, unsuccessfully, to crack up the cop-watcher, whom I've known since 1976, but when he's on watch, he's at some sexual point of no return. Did the cops associate me with the "menacing" voyeur?
"Good afternoon," officers, I soothed. I'm a reporter from…. "Is the girl leaving?"
":Ask our public information officer; we can't talk to you."
I hate the PIO gambit, and should not have said, "I can get my own public info right here."
Do you have a press card," they asked. I came close to saying, "I don't need no stinking badge" (like your stinking badge?). I left out the joke, as I looked into their cold-cold eyes.
"I know the drill," I said. "You can't talk because you don't want to get fired and lose your pension."
This was a joke requiring an explanation—the worst kind of joke, and really just irony, a poor relative to humor.
"I knew you would be difficult," one of the two officers said.
"Difficult?"I asked, "How am I being difficult?"
"You're arguing with me," the wise-guy said.
"Sir," I said gravely, "I taught argumentation at the university [Hawaii, 1967-70], and I could teach you a few things about argument."
That cut it.
The whole screwed-embroilment was like my "Expletives Fly in Panoramic Hills" yarn (Planet: May 18, 2011) in which I snark-assed threatened to slug a citizen, who messed with me on a shoot in the hills.
Anyone who has read my cops 'n robbers pieces in the Planet will know that I dig joking with, and "schmoozing" cops. Were these cops unschmoozable?
"Would you answer my questions if I were from Ch 4?"
"Of course," said the officer.
"Do you live in Berkeley?" I asked; "Oops I know I'll have to ask the PIO that question," I added. "I ask because, you should be reading the local paper."
"I'm an Oakland Tribune reader," the cop said.
"It shows," I, fortunately, failed to retort.
Berkeley police, including the chief, read me. What was wrong with these university cops?Tent-girl packed up her tent and left. I returned to the Ave., vowing to either get some better jokes or stop effing with my stolid police sources.
Ted Friedman, sometimes off-beat, always finds something to report from his sizzling South-side beat.