Thursday night in Manhattan. I was feeling pretty respectable when I turned the corner onto 14th street. I had suited up and gone to dinner with my businessman friend Lenny at an upscale uptown restaurant. We had consumed a nice bottle of wine and were in fine spirits. Now we were capping off the night at Barmacy. As we walked toward the bar, where Deb, the owner, was sitting outside checking IDs, I slapped a sticker on a door. Suddenly I was flanked by six guys and a woman. After they had me on the ground in handcuffs, it occurred to me why I hadn’t recognized them. They were undercover officers.
As I watched the one of the officers rifle through my bag, I asked another about the reason for my arrest. He replied, “We saw you put up that sticker.” The other cop removed three more stickers from my bag and announced, “He’s in possession of three more!” I said, rather relieved, “Well, take off these cuffs, give me my ticket and let me go have a drink with my friend.” But that wasn’t the way it was going down.
A police car arrived on the scene, and they sandwiched me in the backseat between a young male cop and the female cop. I was just drunk enough to be friendly, and I asked him how many people he usually arrested in a night.
“Usually one a night.”
“One a night? Do you usually use seven cops?”
“The other five cops, are they out arresting someone now?”
“No, you’re tonight’s collar.”
We pulled up to the Tombs. I recognized it from the rat cage sculptures out front.
The cops locked me in a small cell. After a while I got a roommate. He thought I was his lawyer. I guess it was my suit. I gave him a little legal advice. Then some other cops took me to be fingerprinted. My young cop was there.
“I thought you would be back on the streets,” I said.
“No, I stay with my collar. You’ll see a judge tomorrow.”
“For putting up a sticker?”
“For committing a crime.”
“I’m sure I’ll get a lot of respect from the other prisoners – Stickerboy! I don’t suppose you’d tack on aggravated assault or murder, you know, so I can get a little respect.”
The cop finally smiled. “That could be arranged.”
“Or you know what would really be helpful? What if you went back to the phone booth and peeled off the sticker? Then I wouldn’t be a criminal at all. I could take you to the bar and buy you drinks all night.”
“You know what? I am going to do something for you. I’m going to come upstairs with you.”
My new cop friend led me up the stairs to a hall lined with other prisoners and stood next to me.
“Do you have any money on you?”
“I think I have around three hundred dollars,” I said.
“Take it out and put it in your shoe. If you have more than one hundred cash you’re a drug dealer and they’ll take your money.”
I followed his instructions. We were relieved of our belongings and instructed to pull our pants to our knees and put our hands on the wall. My cop said, “Just put your hands on the wall.” I kept my pants up. The cop who had been giving the orders walked into an office and returned with a latex glove on his right hand. Not the kind doctors use; the kind you do your dishes with. Then he shoved his index finger up the ass of the first guy in the line, then the second guy, then the third. He wasn’t changing gloves or even fingers. I looked around at my cop. He rolled his eyes. Latex glove man got to me and my cop friend said, “He’s okay” and he moved on to the next guy.
“You’re my new best friend,” I said.
Next stop was a big cell with maybe 40 prisoners, all black, and one phone. The guy using it was pretty big and pretty engaged in his conversation. Thankfully there was some bench left and I got a seat. There were a few stray conversations going on, but I chose to indulge myself in a couple hours of quiet self-pity. Until I smelled something familiar.
Two young guys got shoved into our cell. I got up and walked over to introduce myself. Some of the black guys got irate.
“Fuck you, man! You don’t talk to nobody until a couple white boys show up!”
I realized that probably did seem a little wrong, so I answered the criticism.
“I didn’t talk to him because he’s white; I talked to him because of the way he smells. Don’t tell me you can’t smell him.”
There was a general agreement in the cell that white boy did have a nasty odor. “Spraypaint,” I explained. “I knew he was a graffiti artist when I smelled him. I’m a graffiti artist too.”
An hour later graffiti boy decided to give an impromptu lecture on the oppression of the black man. He stood up on his bench and off he went for about a minute until he slumped back in his seat. All eyes in the cell were still on him and I got a little worried they would find other ways to make him the entertainment, so I started my own diatribe about the coming revolution.
I have been in jail about thirty times, and I know that a little inspired revolutionary banter is a great ice breaker. The revolution is to prisoners what the second coming is to Christians. Like a riot, it will be sparked by a certain event and it will come down fast. There will exist in the first two to three hours the opportunity to seize power. You have to always carry with you the awareness of who has to be taken out and where they are, and what facilities have to be seized, like television and radio stations. Hell may freeze over while we wait for Jesus to return, but revolutions really happen. My little rant was well-received.
The next morning, they brought a couple hundred of us up to a big hall, where we all met for two minutes each with a state appointed lawyer, through a small barred window. My lawyer laid out the deal: eight months sentence deferred if I stayed out of trouble for eight months, and four months of community service. I told her I didn’t want to do any community service. She said she would try to get me out it.
We were less than a minute with the Judge. He gave me eight months probation, four months community service. My lawyer said “He doesn’t want any community service.” The judge said without looking up, “Eight months probation, no community service.”
Outside the Tombs it was dark again. I stopped to admire the rat cage sculptures when one of my former cellmates approached.
“We were lucky,” he said.
“Dumb fucks picked up tonight stay until Tuesday.”
“Tuesday?” I was puzzled.
“Monday’s a holiday,” he explained. “They picked up two hundred last night. They’ll pick up twice that tonight, and twice that Saturday night. You think last night was crowded? Tonight’s fucked.”