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A Guilty Conscience

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Guilty Conscience

Got stopped by the cops on my way to pick up Holden from daycare yesterday afternoon.  The police up here are a little quick with the trigger, especially if they think you live in the flats and are trolling in the hills for...I have no idea what. Scenic, panoramic views from newly restored golf courses?  My license still has me at our old place down by the freeway.  When I explained I'd recently moved and gave him the new address, he seemed to grow nicer.  Maybe it's my imagination. Maybe he was never going to give me a ticket for not using my turn signal.  Which is what I was accused of doing.  Although I am pretty sure I did.  I'm an extremely cautious driver. But we all make mistakes, and I was listening to Tierney and Davis's "The Drive" on 95.7's new sports talk station, "The Game," and a debate over whether Alex "Whiskey Dick" Smith deserves a long-term deal, which was getting me worked up.  So obviously I could've been distracted.

In the end, the cop was a very nice guy and only issued a warning.  He did, however, give me a fix-it ticket, since my proof of insurance had expired.  It'll cost me a few bucks for a transaction fee, and that should be the end of it.

Except cops freak me the fuck out.

I know, nobody likes cops, and most everyone gets nervous when they see the lights flashing in the rearview.  I once got stopped with my buddy C-Love in Miami, and of course I hadn't been drinking.  You couldn't pay me to take Communion and get behind the wheel.  C-Love was a little blotto, and he'd been smoking these clove cigarettes.  The cop that stopped us in Miami was your stereotypical short fucker. Maybe 5'2", hitching up like a miniature cowboy.  Looked like that asshole prison guard in The Green Mile.

And I was nervous.  Despite the fact that I'd done nothing wrong, my hands shook. They see you jittery and and that's always the question you'll get: "What are you so nervous for?"  It's the same question I got when I was carrying $500 worth of dope in the trunk of a stolen car, and it's the same one I got when I was going to feed my girlfriend's cat, stone cold sober.  Doesn't take much to get me worked up.  The answer I gave in Miami was something like "Isn't everyone who gets stopped by the cops nervous?"  Wrong answer.

 "Not if they've done nothing wrong," Percy said, eyes narrowing down.

Then he was on the horn, saying he smelled marijuana, which I'm guessing was from the clove cigarettes because I sure as shit wouldn't be driving with someone smoking pot in my car.  This was long after I kicked the bad habits, and pot was about the last thing I'd smoke when I was fucked up.  He shouted to bring in the hounds.  You can argue over whether weed should be legal or whatever.  Fuck, I think all drugs should be legal.  Regulate and tax, what do I care? But you ain't driving in my car with them until they are.

Anyway, after a lot of short man bluster, no dogs ever showed, and we were let go, but not before I got the ol' stink eye.

           Next bullshit article you read about how the 49ers all had Kyle Williams's back after the fumble, remember this pic.

It strange how fears can become ingrained, the result of a past you may not even be consciously aware of.  I read somewhere once that black people, collectively, tend to be fearful of dogs because back in the 1800s dogs were used by plantation owners to chase after escaped slaves, and that somehow this deep-seated fear has literally fused into their DNA through the generations, making most black people naturally apprehensive around dogs, like an instinct.  I have no idea the legitimacy of that, and I kinda don't want to touch anything that paints an entire race this or that.  Objectively looking at that theory, it seems like a cross between urban legend or something an egghead would propose for a thesis.  Maybe I'm wrong. Dogs used to scare the shit out of me too.  Had this giant doberman that would chase me around Berlin whenever I went running.  I guess that's why we adopted an 8-lb. poodle named Lucky.

                                      Does this look like the face of a scofflaw, Officer?

I only use the above...theory...because it's how I feel about cops.  A distrust and fear, however illogical, deeply ingrained and sewn into the very fabric of my being. I spent so much time getting pushed around and harassed and violated by the police that, even now, when I am a teetotallin' Johnny Q. Law Abider, I still panic. Heart thumping.  Hand shaking.  I mean, I'm a jumpy mutherfucker to begin with, I know, but for those of you who have never been "in the system," it's far worse than what you see on TV and in the movies.

I'll put to rest any James Frey-like grandiose claims of my extensive life on the inside.  I spent one night in a prison, and a grand total of, maybe, fifteen nights behind bars.  I am not a tough guy.  Not even close.  Although I do like this song.

Even Mike Ness gets tamed by old age.  (Was that a fucking jazz intro?)  No, I was just a white suburban kid, who, like Sam once said, was like every book she ever read.  Add my name to the thousands of skinny sickly slinking junkies all over the city, with the doe eyes and outstretched hands, bitching about how nobody ever gives them a fair shake.

I'm not saying the cops pushing me around--and they did push--wasn't deserved. You can debate whether using illegal drugs strips you of your personhood or whatever.  I'm not going to do that.  At the time, I felt victimized.  Now it's later and I can see why I was treated the way I was.  Terms like "deserve" or "fairness" don't really factor in when you are living that way.  I mean, if you are violating and circumventing every law, making special allowances for yourself, it seems a wee bit hypocritical to be bemoaning others not playing it by the book.

Doesn't make a difference, the right or wrong of it.  All that matters is that when I walked away, I was saddled with a PTSD sort of problem (and, no, not like a solider. Like a guy who was fucked up from a traumatic situation).  And that world was traumatic.  Getting rousted at dawn in a squat; accosted in a Nordstrom's parking lot, or outside a 7-11, helmets put on your head and beat senseless; cops walking in and stealing money from bathrobes.  This was my life and my friend's lives for a long time.  You can assign all the blame on outlaws doing wrong.  Fine.  Doesn't change the memories you take with you.

It's not like I wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night screaming, "Charlie!", and start humping the nearest doorknob.  But I am still skittish around the cops, and a part of me still thinks, even when it's a routine stop, that something will show in that system, something I thought I'd long ago cleared up and had expunged, or maybe I'll simply enter the Twilight Zone, where there is no rhyme or reason, only suffering and retribution.  Because a part of me still expects to be hauled before a court, cosmic or otherwise, and held more accountable for my past transgressions. It's the old Catholic in me, a burdening guilt that needs to be recognized and punished.

When I went back east to my 20th High School Reunion, I was surprised at how much fun it was.  I got along with everyone.  I still had my hair, looked better than many of my classmates.  I was on, zipping and zapping, felt pretty charming, and had one of the (if not the) prettiest girl on my arm most of the night.  We all joked with one another, and I probably got a little goofier than I'd intended.  I was feeling good.  I figured I would hate something like a high school reunion, and I didn't consider most of these classmates my friends, but with all the years that had passed, I found myself truly enjoying the company.  The problem had been me, all along.

Until one of my former classmates, who is now a cop, came up and whispered in my ear.

"Something ain't right with your eyes," he said.  "I see those eyes all the time on the job.  Something ain' right."

And then he smiled and walked away.

In Berlin, I'm sure everyone knew about my "problem" and run-ins with the law. We were the bad Clifford kids.  Was he just fucking with me?  Did he know he'd just touched on my biggest fear?  Had he been waiting 20-some-odd years for his revenge because he didn't like the way I used to draw cartoons of him with really bushy hair in Mrs. Black's class?  Maybe he was just goofin' too.  But it got to me.

It's what I fear when cops stop me.  That they will take a look in my eyes and see what lurks behind them: the broken, bad parts of a broken, bad man.  Doesn't work that way, I know.  I mean, unless you live in the south.  I feel rest assured that in SF, no one is tying me to the back of a pick-up and dragging me down a dirt road.  It's more the concern that they can see through the slickly polished veneer and facade, to a black heart full of malice, and they will know I am guilty for so many things, so many bad, cruel, selfish actions, so many wicked thoughts.  I fear they will see the sickness inside me.  And if they were to call me on it, how could I deny it?  When I've suspected it's been there all along.

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