by Kurt Doonesbury
Portland’s unofficial slogan might be “Keep Portland Weird” but for New York it is just a mutual understanding among the locals. When you have a population of over 8,000,000 people, Weird is naturally going to be a demographic the politicians will have to cater to along with the Rich and the Poor and 1,000 shades in between.
It doesn’t matter where you call home, if it isn’t New York City, the natives are going to think you’re from some second-rate BFE. Tell them you’re from the South and all of a sudden you’re an inbred yokel who’s confused by flashing lights and that food can be cooked without lard. And probably worst of all, they suspect you voted for a Bush or a Romney.
Besides flashing lights, the City has a lot to offer. It’s Sodom and Gomorrah and Disney World rolled into one, just with more corporate sponsors. If you’re an average Joe Schmo, be sure to see the sights. If you’re wealthy and haven’t fulfilled your dream of finally shitting gold, be sure to check out Serendipity 3 and order the $1,000 Golden Opulence Sundae. You’ll be dropping 23-carat nuggets in no time. Just be sure to give them a two-day heads up and they will even let you keep the Baccarat Harcourt crystal goblet that the sundae comes in. So bring the kids and the missus. A life’s savings wouldn’t hurt, either.
When apartment hunting, you can skip Manhattan. The likelihood of you and yours being able to find and afford anything there with your entry-level jobs isn’t impossible, only mathematically improbable. For the price of a studio in Manhattan with a note stating that you can fit a bed and a dresser but no mention of a bathroom or kitchen, you can get a two bedroom in Queens.
Tourists might be amazed at all of the beautiful, fit youths walking around the City and susceptible to a rumor going around that this is because affordable apartments also require a gym membership. This isn’t because the landlords only want healthy, good looking tenants, but rather because they don’t have bathrooms or showers.
Queens isn’t so bad and if you work in the City all you have to do is hop on what is known to the locals as the Orient Express, the 7 train, and your half-hour commute will leave you 45 minutes late to work. The train also runs local stops if you wanted to be delayed even longer before getting to work. The MTA personnel will reassure you that any and all delays are due to a sick passenger or train traffic ahead of us or both at the same time. People who buy ad space in the trains can sleep easy at night knowing that hundreds of people are familiarizing themselves with the advertisements and pondering if they have the correct career or bra size. At least half of them work, I applied to be a teaching fellow six months after moving here.
Queens, once one of the largest strongholds for the largest Irish communities in the City, has now been transformed into a confused schizophrenic who still believes it is still Irish deep down inside but is actually split between its own Hispanic and Asian personalities on any given day. Young residents of certain communities in Queens are proudly claiming their area is being gentrified, a term thrown around by young Americans hoping that their surroundings will eventually become white-washed and the new hot-spot for 20-something year old hipsters with brewpubs and gourmet BBQ restaurants and a price hike in our rent.
Nothing is more welcoming to a new city than having your new New York City apartment burgled while you are at work. If you don’t have time for the 3-hour waiting period for the cops to show up, take it from me, tell the poor saps at 911 that your handgun was stolen. Your wait-time will be cut down to a bare-bone 10 minutes with police lights blazing and not one but two patrol cars if not more depending on how busy the cops are that night.
The downside to getting this speedy police service is that guns are basically outlawed here. Just to have a handgun in your house you need a slew of permits and bureaucratic paperwork. Forget about purchasing one in the City legally. The cops will be the first to tell you that they often go to New Jersey, where gun laws are more relaxed, to pick up their own service weapons since even they can’t stand to deal with the New York laws.
After being cuffed and uncuffed and told we were just going for a ride to the precinct to speak to the captain just to have a little talk about the details of the robbery and to report the handgun and other items as stolen, I ended up being booked for a misdemeanor. I was lucky that there weren’t any bullets, I was told. That’s a felony charge. The police locked me up in a holding cell next to a sign strategically placed by the cell stating that if you have a gun that you can drop it off no questions asked and receive $25 for the deposit. Just some light reading after you have been locked up.
Various officers came in and talked to me off and on between reports and phone calls. One came over and leaned on the bars to the cell and started questioning me about the make and model, what kind of wood the handle had, and if I was satisfied with the gun itself. He was thinking of getting one himself but wasn’t sure if he was going to go with that model or a Colt. He was a fan of Westerns and dreamed of being a cowboy. He said. “You’ll be alright. They’ll go easy on you, I bet. Just remember you aren’t in Kansas anymore, as they say.”
At 3:40 am, two officers came in with a fat white man in his mid-thirties and a black male prostitute in drag. They had been caught in the act in his car with what they believed was cocaine. It was then decided that I would be more comfortable at central booking and the same two cops that just strolled in with the fat man and prostitute cuffed me, again, cutting off circulation to my fingers. The marks and bruises would last a week, marks of initiation into an age-old brotherhood of criminals and wrongdoers and those just in the wrong place at the right time.
First, you are put in one cell. Then another. Then it is time for your mug shot and checking in. There’s no way to take a good mug shot. You’ll always end up looking like a crazed Nick Nolte no matter what your race or gender is.
After all this, you are then placed in yet another cell. Here I got to meet the people I’d be spending the day with. From this cell we had a good view of the TV. The news was running a story about how Ariel Castro had committed suicide by hanging himself with bed sheets in his own prison cell. Someone asked who the hell this cracker was and why we should give a shit. “Asshole, he’s the president of Puerto Rico. Dumb motherfucker.”
“Why they got the president locked up in the first place?”
“What the fuck I look like, huh? Some shit that reads the paper? Shee-yit.”
A lady with a clipboard came around and asked for those with jobs to make a line at the bars. “Name of company, address, and telephone number.” When it was my turn, I couldn’t remember the address or telephone number of my employers. I told the lady that and asked what this was for. “Do you have a job or not, and if so, what is their name, address, and telephone number?” It was apparent they weren’t there for shits and giggles or kind understanding. One poor soul was supposed to start his job that very morning. The lady with the clipboard’s advice: “Well, start looking for something else, son.”
At first, no one gave a shit about the others there until someone brought up warrants. “You got warrants?” “Oh, yeah, how many warrants you got?” And so on. This cut the tension in the air and those that spoke English (which was the majority of us except for two Chinese guys and three Mexicans.) Pretty soon it was a social gathering and all were partaking in the pissing contest that were our crimes. One guy had actually pissed on a cop. He couldn’t hold it while waiting on the train and took a leak off of an above-ground station. As fate would have it, a cop was standing below him being showered upon. As fate would also have it, he had two outstanding warrants. Another was arrested because his girlfriend said he was abusing her, smacking her around at home, but, as he put it, he was going to get off since it was his word against hers… and her friends who also saw it. There were also two rowdy drunks with three shoes between them. The missing shoe had been tossed at a cop outside of a bar. The shoe pitcher was easily caught. According to him, it is pretty damn hard to outrun the cops with only one loafer. His friend was arrested for telling the cops to “take it easy.” For the rest of the morning they celebrated their camaraderie until they both sobered up, and we learned they weren’t friends at all and had actually never seen each other before that evening.
Probably the unluckiest person there was Jamel. Jamel had been staying at a motel somewhere as a meeting point for him and his lady. He let us know that that day he had to make multiple trips to the nearest gas station for pop and chips. A 30-minute walk in both directions and he had done this at least 4, maybe 5 times that day. Around 7 o’clock, his lady called him up to let him know that she had a friend that would be joining them for their rendezvous. Jamel, tired of making all those damn trips to the gas station and noticing he needed more chips and pop and “roll-ons” for this endeavor, decided to borrow a car that had been idling outside his room. By his report, the car had been there all day, just running. So, he borrowed it and came right back only to find that the cops were waiting for him and snatched him up even though he felt some of them understood his story and even commented that they might have done the same if they were in his shoes. There he was, stuck in holding in Queens, and his lady and her friend waiting for him at a motel somewhere probably just watching TV and eating his chips.
It was around this time that I got my joint nickname. Racially speaking, we were our own Rainbow Coalition, but I was the odd man out. The song “One of these things is not like the others” being sung by giddy Muppets comes to mind. For the rest of our time together, I was known as “White Boy” by my cell mates.
“White Boy, what you get locked up for?”
“Hey all, White Boy got busted for gun possession. Only White Boy would be arrested for gun possession while not possessing a gun because he called the cops on himself.”
“White Boy, your dad got a lawyer? You gotta sue the pigs and then you remember me and we’ll have one hell of a cookout. Yup, White Boy, we’ll live it up big time. Big time.”
We were finally moved to the final holding cells to await our meetings with our public defenders. The hallway is long and has cells on both sides facing each other. We were crammed in a cell with at least 20 other people in them, most of them laid out on the floor using their shoes as pillows. At about 6:30, they served breakfast. The meal would be the same at lunch and dinner. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for all three meals. These sandwiches were made from stale bread and the jelly of a single grape and the butter of maybe two or three peanuts. Those not hungry enough to try to eat these sandwiches used them to play a game. The game consisted of seeing who could get theirs to stick to the ceiling. This game then turned into a game that consisted of seeing whose sandwich would stick there the longest. From the looks of it, this wasn’t a game that had just been thought up by us.
These cells have a single aluminum toilet that also serves as a drinking fountain. Only one of us braved to use the thing in either function. And he decided to undress for the experience.
Bit by bit, little by little, people left us and were believed to have been set free. From the original gang, the cop-pisser-on-er was let go first. Then the shoe thrower. Though his “comrade” was left behind and was still there when I left. Towards the end it was just Jamel, the comrade, and myself still there. We were joined by two more, but by now our cell was looking pretty thinned-out and conversation was getting kind of boring since we had discussed our cases through and through and we were all now experts on the law after listening to the narrations of veterans of the system. These two new guys were a release from our boredom. One had brought two cigarettes and matches that he had hidden under his testicles. No one took him up on his offer of sharing one. After a while, he decided he didn’t need to get busted smoking by a guard. The other guy came in bragging about getting busted with coke while he was getting serviced by a prostitute. He told the story over and over again, prouder of himself with each telling, happy that the others were eating it up. He looked over to me and said, “Hey, don’t I know you from somewhere.”
“Yeah, I was in the holding cell when they brought you in.”
After that, he didn’t seem to like sharing his story anymore. Hubris taken down a notch. Which has my vote as the City’s unofficial slogan.
Dr. Kurt Doonesbury
P.S. All charges were dropped. A lack of possession set me free.