04 December 1999

Spreading Christmas Cheer

Wife-mate and I were downtown and deiced to have lunch at Marshal Field’s cafeteria. So we headed for an elevator up. In the elevator already were two middle-aged white women and a very tall black woman. I could tell immediately that the older women were there for their annual trip to have lunch in the Walnut Room right next to the justifiably famous three-story Christmas tree. Their mothers had probably taken them on just such a trip back in the 1950’s and now, even though they lived someplace like Schaumburg, they would drive downtown (despite the risk!), park as near to Field’s as possible (just to be safe!), and have their lunch, careful to leave the city before sundown. The black woman, on the other hand, was a transvestite. I suspected from the height, checked and saw the man sized shoes and the recent shave.

The transvestite got off on four and, as we began to ride up to seven, I commented:

Dutchman: Hey, he almost passed, didn’t he?

First Lady: Pardon?

Dutchman: Oh, that was no lady, that was a man. You can tell from the big shoes and close shave.

First Lady: Really?

Second Lady: Oh, I just don’t know why a person would do a thing like that.

Dutchman: Yeah, I don’t know either. I mean — unless you were going to dress up as a nurse.

First Lady: A nurse?

Dutchman: Yeah! Then you would have that white dress, and those white stockings with the lines down the back, and the white shoes that go squeak-squeak-squeak as you walk down the hallway, and the white starched linen hat ...

Wife-Mate (interrupting): You’re not giving me an enema!

Dutchman (stomping his foot): Damn!

So the elevator got to seven and we stepped out and headed for the cafeteria. I looked back and didn’t see the two ladies leave the elevator even though this was their floor. I’ll bet the went right back down and headed home to Schaumburg.

15 September 1999

My Sausage-Pinch Problem

I’ve got a problem and it all comes from a sausage-pinch.

I’m sure lots of you don’t know what a sausage-pinch is. Most women don’t, and most men with white collar jobs don’t know either. But I doubt there is a working class fellow who doesn’t know what I’m talking about.

A sausage-pinch is when the police arrest you for spite. They pick you up, book you on something trumped up (“disorderly conduct” usually), and throw you in the lock-up for a few hours until your friends can bail you out. Later, when the case comes before a judge, the whole thing is dismissed. You’re out the time and trouble, and the cops have a good laugh all around. It’s called a “sausage-pinch” because after they arrest you (the pinch) they usually keep you in the tank just long enough for you to get hungry enough to eat one of those jail-house baloney sausage sandwiches: the dread “choker.”

Now, this happens to young guys regularly. It happened to me once about fifteen years ago. I was riding the #36 Broadway bus. It had been a long day and I was on my way home from work. There was a girl sitting on the seat opposite me and she was arguing with an old lady. You see, the girl was playing her radio, not loud, but it’s not supposed to be on at all, and the woman wanted her to turn it off. The girl claimed that since this wasn’t actually a radio, but a tape player, it was somehow exempted from the CTA rule against “radio playing.” Well, after about five minutes of this nonsense, I just reached over and snapped the radio off for her. The old lady thanked me and the girl just sat there. Later, when I got off the bus, the girl got off too, and she flagged down a cop.

Clearly, the girl was in the wrong but, legally, I had assaulted her, I had touched her person. And when she told the cops her story they arrested me. They didn’t arrest me because I was a clear and present danger to public order, they arrested me because this girl was a cute young twist in a mini-skirt and they were all too happy to do her the favor.

And this played out just like any other sausage-pinch. I was arrested, booked at the precinct station, finger-printed, photographed, and left to wait in the lock-up with the drunks and pan-handlers. It was after mid-night before my buddy Pete was allowed to post bond for me.

The police report, as is usual in these cases, was a bit embroidered. Instead of just snapping off the radio, I was supposed to have forced it from the girl’s grasp, turned it off, and then refused to give it back until I got off the bus. Of course when the matter actually came to trial, neither the girl nor the arresting officer bothered to show up in court and the whole thing was dismissed.

See how it works?

A sausage-pinch is just petty harassment, other things are worse.

Sometimes being “Bounced” isn’t so bad. That’s when the cops decide they need to “question” you. They throw you in the back of the prowl car and maybe ask you a few questions. But mostly, they drive you as far out of your way as they can and then let you loose. Stranded in Hegewisch or Sauganash — E-gad!

Of course they could give you a Hard Bounce.

Like my buddy Travis, the bike messenger. One day a cop cut Travis off in traffic and so he flipped the cop the bird. So the cop threw him in the back of the squad car and drove him to the station house six blocks away before he let Travis loose. Of course, the cop didn’t take the bicycle. He left it right there on the corner of Rush and Elm and by the time Travis ran back from the station house, the bike was long gone. Think of it as a cop reaching into your pocket and taking three hundred and fifty dollars if you will.

Then there was the Hard Bounce in the newspapers about two years ago. Some police officers picked three or four black boys (they were like twelve or fourteen years old) out on West Madison. They drove them over to South Racine and left those West Side boys out on the curb. That’s where some South Side gang-bangers were ready to give them a good going over. If I remember correctly, one of those West Side boys is crippled now.

“Riding the Horn” is like one sausage-pinch after another. That’s where the cops pick you up and take you to station house “A” for questioning. But before it comes time to clear out the lock-up and bring everyone before a judge, precinct “A” is done with you. And so you get released before actually being booked or seeing a judge. But, ah! Now the boys from station “B” have some questions for you, so they take you to their lock up for “questioning.” At station “B” you rot in a cell for another twenty-four hours and eat three more chokers before they release you. And that’s where precinct “C” comes into the picture. As one can readily see, this could go on and on indefinitely. Now, while I’ve never actually met anyone who was taken to more than three lock-ups without actually being booked, it would do to keep in mind that there are twenty-five police districts in Chicago and they might all have questions for you.

Have you ever heard the phrase: “Two shots rang out and a man fell dead.”

One night, before we had children, my wife and I were walking someone from work to his car. It was twilight and as we rounded a corner, two kids, black boys about sixteen years old, collided with us. They excused themselves politely, but they kept going. We crossed the street to our friend’s car. Suddenly the two boys came doubling back, whipping around that corner and running off pell mell.

Two cops were running after them.

As soon as he was around the corner the first cop planted his feet, yelled “Stop, you nigger!” and lowered his gun to fire. I will believe until the day I die that he would have shot those boys dead, except that just then his partner grabbed his wrist and pointed to us, potential witnesses. My wife was so scared she trembled for an hour. She realized immediately that if we weren’t there the cops would have shot those boys, and that they would have got away with it.

Two shots rang out and a man fell dead; uh — warning shot second.

So, now you know the score.

And now, when I tell you that I was picked up on a sausage-pinch the other afternoon, you know it could have been worse.

And this sausage-pinch couldn’t have been more typical.

One fine afternoon I was about to cross Wells Street. I had the green, and I was about half-way across, when a car going the other way ran the red light. This happens all the time and, frankly, I am sick of it. So I yelled a naughty word at the people in the car. In fact, I called the driver an “ass-hole.”

As it turned out, however, not only was the driver a horse’s ass, but he was also an undercover police officer in an un-marked police car. So that car came to a screeching halt, a fat cop came bolting out, and I was jacked up against a lamp-post, hand-cuffed, and arrested. (Nowadays, police officers put cuffs on tight too, nice and snug, so that your fingers start tingling right away.)

Then I was taken to the station house office where the patrol-men do their paper-work. As I sat there, I could hear the policemen jovially calling each other “bastard,” “nut buster,” “hard ass,” “bitch,” and, yes, “ass hole.” Judging from the officers’ reparteé in that room, I would say that “hey, fuck you, ass hole,” answers just about any question one policeman might ask another.

I will confess it: as I sat on that hard bench, my fingers tingling and blue at the tips, I was really angry. When I’m angry, I often use a little trick to calm myself down: I say the rosary. I don’t need the beads, I just count on my fingers and trust God to forgive me if I skip a thing or two by accident. So I said the rosary to myself and it really calmed me down, but I think I broke a rule. You see, I was moving my lips, and so an officer asked me what I was saying. I didn’t miss a beat, I just kept on saying what I had been saying, only now I said it aloud: “…blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus…”

Well, I guess I broke that rule about keeping church and state separate, because the officer who had arrested me in the first place yelled across the room, “Shut the fuck up, you!”

Much later, after these officers had finished typing all of their reports for the month, I was taken down to the lock-up and booked.

First they take mug shots, front and side, and fingerprints, right and left. Nowadays they have this thing that photocopies your fingerprints. No messy ink, they just roll your fingers across a glass plate and instantly the prints show up on their computer screen. (I think that plate was two hundred degrees Fahrenheit, though I may be off by a degree or two.) All of this information is sent to the F.B.I. in Washington to make sure you are not a nazi saboteur or an escaped cannibal or something. In fact, the cops won’t let you loose until they get the high-sign from the G-men. (And if the computers are down in Washington you could end up waiting three days, like a friend of mine once did in Madison.)

Next you have to empty your pockets and turn over all of the contents. I asked if I could hang on to my rosary, but the jailer assured me that God would watch over me in there, even if my rosary was in here. I did get to keep my money, however. Thinking about it, though, this makes sense. After all, you can’t bribe a guard with a rosary or chap-stick!

Then they want to make sure you can’t kill yourself. So you have to turn over your belt and shoe-laces. This is not an attempt to strip you of your dignity! They just want to make certain that, if you die in custody, it won’t be your fault!

At last, two and one half hours after I said that naughty naughty word, I got to make my phone call. They led me to a cell with two pay phones and locked me in. (It’s a good thing I had exact change too, because I don’t think I know anyone who would accept a collect call from me.)

I called my wife.

Now, I’m sure you married guys know how tough it can be to make a call like that to your wife. It’s right up there with “I’ve wrecked the car,” though certainly not as bad as “I have a dose of the clap.” What made this call so extra tough though, was that I didn’t know what I had been charged with, I didn’t know if I could be bailed out, and I didn’t know how much the bail might be.

The wife was actually pretty square about it, (probably because she yells at dangerous drivers with even more verve and profanity than myself.) She said she would come down to the station and do what she could.

The phone call completed, I was left alone for another twenty minutes in the holding cell. I had some extra change and it amused me to think of people I might call. I could order up a pizza and see if it got to me. I could phone the precinct and complain to the desk sergeant about police brutality. I could call up the Psychic Friends Network and see if they knew what I was charged with. (Or, I could rip that phone cord out, wrap it around my neck, and hang myself from the window bars with it; thus proving that a resourceful man doesn’t need shoelaces to kill himself!)

Finally, they remembered about me and took me to the tank. There are about twenty cells in the tank, all of them in the center of the room with a corridor running around them. They are all iron, top to bottom, and paint, layer after layer from year after year. On a Wednesday afternoon, there is plenty of room and I got a little cottage all to myself. I am about six feet and, by laying down on the bunk, I estimated that my cell was a cube eight feet around. There were two bunks, made of steel lattice, a steel toilet that worked, and a steel sink that did not. The nearest light was in the corridor and left more than half of the cell in shade. There was nothing to read and nothing to do and, the worst part, there was no place comfortable to sit down. After a few hours in the tank your butt really hurts from sitting on steel.

Passing the time is tough, especially when you don’t know when, or if, you are going to be bailed out.

If you are lucky, there might be someone in the next cell to talk to. If there is, talk about TV, or movies, or take-out food; anything that you might converse about with a precocious child. Do not talk about the things that people hold strong opinions about, sports, politics, women, etc,. If your new friend wants to tell you his story, let him. (Do not discuss your case with him! He could be what we in the “big house” call a “song-bird” planted by the authorities to entrap and bedevil you!)

I had no luck. The cells I saw on the way in had occupants who were dead to the world. The cell just beyond mine had some fellow who was incoherent, alternating his talk between thoroughly garbled gibberish and five minute jags of yelling “Vannessa! That bitch! Vannessa!”

If you find yourself without a sparkling conversational partner, you could try to sleep, but the bunks are hard and you will probably be too angry to relax. (Also, do you want to risk facing a police grilling when you are still groggy from napping?) Pacing between the bunks is a good start, and, if your legs are long enough to span the gap, you can pace on top of the bunks. You can kill bugs; my score than afternoon was seventeen. If you have a nickel or something, you can peel up the gum stuck on the floor (But don’t chew it! Dispose of it in the toilet.).

I myself can say with pride that, between peeling up gum from the floor and exterminating bugs, I left that cell a better place for my having been there.

I was arrested at about half-past noon. I was booked between two and three. At six the guard came by with the chokers. I took one. It was seven-thirty when my wife bailed me out. I was beat. I had a beer with my wife at our kitchen table, and then went to bed.

My court date was four weeks later. I wore a suit and let my lawyer do the talking. The court room was a zoo. There had to be seventy people in the room, all of them having business with the court, all of the cases misdemeanors. Cases were disposed of promptly. Half of the cases were thrown out because the arresting officer wasn’t there: probably sausage-pinches. Some of the other defendants pleaded innocent and were assigned a trial date. One fellow pled guilty and was sentenced right there on the spot. I was the only person in the room wearing a suit who was not a lawyer.

We got the police report while we waited to be called. It turned out that I had been charged with disorderly conduct. The police account of the altercation stated that I had blocked a police car in hot pursuit, that the officers had identified themselves as law officers in hot pursuit and politely asked me to move out of the way. But instead of obliging them, I had willfully remained in front of the car, yelling obscenities at the officers, until they arrested me. As I mentioned before, these police reports are largely hyperbole. They have to be! If sausage-pinch reports were factual, they would constitute proof of false arrest.

Of course, the officers failed to show up and my case was dismissed.

A week and a half later, I got a check from the Clerk of the Circuit Court, Aurelia Pucinski, for $84- of my $100- bail. Presumably the office of the Clerk keeps the difference to compensate the government for the trouble I caused them.

I haven’t got the bill from my lawyer yet, but I’ll pay it when it comes.

So it ought to be over, right?

I mean: I’m a big boy and I am well aware than any cop having a bad day can pick me up on a sausage-pinch at will. I understand that this is no big deal. This is just one of the aggravations that comes with living in the city. This shouldn’t be any bigger a deal than losing a day’s wages for the day of the arrest, another for the day I had to go to court, and being out the bail-money for two months. It’s just one more reminder of why I resent cops. I’m a big boy now: I know the score. So I should just put this behind me, right?

Well, there’s more to it than a simple sausage-pinch.

Gœthe says that the two powers of peace are justice and propriety. And, since I cannot get justice, I should settle for propriety, right?

Here’s how propriety works.

When there were protests in Seattle last week, my eleven-year-old daughter asked me about it. Naturally, I lied to her. I told her that the cops were only arresting vandals and those anarchists who shot our President McKinley. I told her that the police would never assault peaceful picketers with tear gas. That only in Tsarist Russia would cops go after protesting workers with truncheons. Never admit to your children that we live in a police state! Lie about it.

When my father used to bribe a cop to keep from getting a ticket, Pop would explain to me that this officer was a nice guy, and that he let Old Dad talk his way out of a ticket. After all, you don’t tell your kids that you’ve been shaken down by a corrupt cop: you lie about it.

When someone I know is arrested for “driving while black,” we explain to our kids that “profiling” is a way of analyzing the demographics of crime and helping law-enforcement officers to identify possible law-breakers scientifically instead of just being the same old racist stereotyping. We lie about it.

You don’t tell your kids that the Bill Of Rights only applies if you have enough money to keep a lawyer on retainer. You just hope that they’ll go to college, get that good job, make those big bucks, escape from the working classes, and never end up on the wrong end of a night-stick.

Your kids will grow up soon enough. They will pick up enough cynicism on their own without your having to inoculate them with more. By the time they are old enough for the cops to harass, they will know the score. Until then, you let them be kids.

Now, here’s that sausage-pinch problem I started with.

You see — I wasn’t alone when I was arrested.

I had gone to pick-up my son at kindergarten. He and I were walking back to our shop. He was there when I was arrested. One of the cops yelled at him, “We’re the police! We can break the law!” He was thrown into the cop car with me. He had to walk into the police station with the whores and vagrants. The officers told him they were going to take him away from me and send him to D.C.F.S. (rather, I presume they said that to him. He remembers it as “D.F.S.”). It was only after cajoling and pleading with the desk sergeant that I got him to call my wife and have her pick up my little boy instead of taking him to D.C.F.S. And he was a brave little boy; he followed me closely, didn’t cry, didn’t say anything. Altogether, he was in police custody for about an hour.

My little boy had just turned six years old then, and he had only started kindergarten two weeks before. He likes steam trains, and Frank Thomas, and rough-housing like any tough little boy. But he’s also sensitive. You can’t give him anything without his giving half of it to his little sister. He can spend hours listening to Mussorgsky or Bach, looking at Japanese wood-block prints, or listening to me read history books to him. He remembers everything; the parts of a suit of armor, the logos of American railroads, what we had for lunch on that trip to Galesburg last year, everything we’ve ever said to him.

And now his memories give him nightmares.

He dreams that the cops arrest him for something, anything, nothing. That they trump-up charges, write them down in police reports, and turn him over to “D.F.S.”. That for J-walking, littering, saying bad words, he gets thrown in prison, that Jimmy Cagney prison with steel bars and striped uniforms, has to walk the last mile, is kept in solitary until he grows a beard down to his knees: who knows? Can there be anything as frightening in a real prison as there is in a child’s nightmare of prison?

What do I tell him?

Propriety demands that he never know I was arrested.

But he was there.

Propriety demands that if he finds out about the arrest, that I just take the fall and tell him it was my fault.

But he knows I didn’t do anything wrong.

Propriety demands that I agree with the police report.

But he knows that it is a complete fabrication.

Propriety demands that I explain to him that if the police do anything wrong they will be reprimanded.

But he knows that they were free to arrest me, lie about it, and never have to appear in open court to explain their actions.

Propriety demands that I deny that we live in a police state.

But he knows better than that.

What on earth can I tell my little boy to make his nightmares go away?

Justice has failed him.

Propriety had failed him.

Must he sink into the nightmares of Truth at so tender an age?