|The chapter is based|
on this story. I used
the name, Max Bear.
A few days after that ride, about a month after the bloody Tien an Men square massacre, around July 4th of ’89, I flipped. Those kids in China camping out under Mao’s nose: … the liberty statue… the hope against a murderous oppression…, it was all a sore reminder of the emptiness of my life after Nicaragua. The superficial posturing of rebellion by our clubbing generation on State Street became an obscene display of privilege. In lieu of cries for freedom their cries were, “Where’s the party!” Rioting in Isla Vista for more beer! Just that one lone protester, standing off a line of tanks, waving his shirt…! I could almost hear that thin thread his sanity dangled from…snap!
It was a typical Saturday morning for me and, as I had Saturday nights off. I spent the first half of the day in Pal’s after his shift ended at six-thirty A.M. Claire was the barkeep on Saturdays and her shift started at ten so I already had a good load going by then. It was the first of the month, I had his VA check, the week’s earnings, and a few bindles of cocaine (cocaine was the common graveyard tip for some drivers back in the eighties) and I had Saturday nights off. I was in that place where alcohol oblivion was staved off by a line here and there of coke and stepping out back for a few tokes of pot. Next thing I knew it was getting dark and my best intentions were to head home and perhaps stop off for chorizo con huevos at the old Casa Blanca down on the four-hundred block of State Street.
Across the street from Pal’s, in the middle of De La Guerra Plaza, a statue of the 18th century king of Spain, Juan Carlos, was mounted over a fountain pedestal turned open-air public urinal. The bronze figure of the ole-bewigged-huge-schnozzled monarch presided daily into the night over a rag-tag assortment of vagrants, street level dealers, and pan-handlers. The statue became a tribute to improvised-assemblage-folk-art as people took advantage of the absurdity of the poor king’s foppish posture to adorn it with such things as underwear or a toilet plunger for a crown and white-faced make-up, et al: all of which changed daily. The city crews removed the work the next morning, making way for a whole new display to be improvised the next night.
I was tanked up and when I was tanked up I never knew what was going to happen next. Sometimes he merely wove my way home down State Street and crashed. Other times it was as though I’d developed Tourette’s syndrome as I made my way to the Virginia Hotel. I let out whatever peeve was bugging me at that moment to shocked, and frightened, tourists. This particular time it was the panhandlers that became the focus of his ire. I crossed the street to where we were hanging out. One scruffy character demanded spare change as I approached.
“What? You tell me what spare change is and I’ll think about it.”
I was counter-challenged with the usual panhandler nonsense, “You got plenty, part with some of it,” the wimpy creep demanded.
“It just so happens that I do have plenty…” I pulled out a wad of c-notes and peeled one off, dangling it in front the overly aggressive panhandler. The guy’s eyes lit up as he grabbed for it. Fooling with him at first I deftly snatched it away and surprised myself by tossing it to the hangers-on sitting on a bench at the side of the square. Now everyone was paying attention. I had an audience now and began a rant.
“What is a statue of a murderous monarch doing in a prominent place on a street called State?” I shouted, needing no megaphone. The onlookers were puzzled. I was no longer impotent Max that sat in the Judge’s chamber; I was The Max. A chord… the delicate chord that bound my sanity… that chord that reined in the wild beast and kept me pinned to a peg… the tamed elephant had gone rogue… I had begun what I would finish… I tried all my adult life to live right but that chord had been stretched to the breaking point!
This noise raised a few jeers and a crowd started to gather hoping I’d either heave a few more c-notes or an opportunity would arise to take from me the wad I’d displayed.
“Why do you panhandle and play games begging spare change and dealing street drugs?” I continued, “This town is wealthy enough… why don’t you just take some it from those who have more than they need?” I became transformed into an old fashioned rebel, haranguing the unwashed masses. I was imbued with the spirit of Jesus serving up a revolutionary version of the Sermon on the Mount. I was an anointed Thomas Paine spittin’ on the Brits, Saint Paul the Rabble Rouser at the Areopagus on Mars Hill. I was on fire with the not so holy spirit of Joe Hill, rallying the Wobblies: “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth… six feet of it!” and this was my soapbox.
“That king,” I pointed at the statue, “was ordained by a Christian Pope to reign over and rip-off the lands of a thousand-year old civilization … yes, Chumash slave labor built the Santa Barbara Mission,” I harangued, “and you sit here on stolen ground pleading for that, which by the grace of a Christian God you are granted, a nickel or two! I say, ‘Fuck Jesus and fuck his bloody king too!’”
I was insane with virtue. I tossed the rest of his wad… about five-hundred bucks into the crowd… shouting out as loud as I could; “Jesus Christ did not die for my sins. He died because pigs like Juan Carlos could not abide him. Adding insult to injury, they use Christ’s name to bestow regal powers on a fop like this usurper! If you had any balls at all you wouldn’t be sitting here! You would be burglarizing those houses up there in the hills above us.”
One of the late coming bystanders, who’d missed out on the cash bonanza, called out from the crowd, “Why don’t you shut the fuck up and throw us some more money!”
The crowd laughed as the guy came at me swinging but I wasn’t going to back down. Shit… I recognized it was the Fedora Jerk! Did the prick’s trust-fund run out? What was a Montecito boy doing here? Or was he just there as a tourist buying drugs? I was untouched by him and, in spite of my boozed up state, I landed a few good blows before we were interrupted by pepper-spray.
A bicycle cop had pulled up and saw what was happening. Clearly it was a disturbance that could not be tolerated on State Street. The cop had seen the fists fly… he called for back-up and cuffed both of us.
I came to his senses as soon as my arms were pinned behind and the handcuffs clicked on my wrist. I had two bindles of coke in my shirt pocket. How in the Hell am I going to get rid of this cocaine? Longingly, looking down into my shirt pocket, I felt frustration at my powerlessness when the hammer came down. My last hope was that the cop would somehow miss the two bindles. But, in spite of my wishes, the coke in the aforementioned shirt pocket were found when I was given a thorough pat-down and before being gently tucked into the newly arrived and waiting squad car.
“Now, what have we here?” says the bike cop.
“Wha…? I don’t know. It wasn’t there before. Someone must’ve slipped it in my pocket when I wasn’t looking. Hey, maybe that ‘A-hole’ planted it on me!” I nodded towards the Fedora. I was thinking fast but knew it wasn’t even a good lie. I’d seen enough on the new reality show, Cops, to know a good excuse from a bad one and this one was very weak. But hell, I tried nonetheless to convince the cop that the Fedora had somehow planted the dope in my pocket while we scuffled. I had no shame at this point. I’d considered myself before then to be honest to a fault…. And never a snitch. One time I’d done three months because I wouldn’t turn state’s evidence. It was astonishing how hard and futilely I tried to push that lie.
My last thoughts were bleak: I’m no different than the toothless trailer-trash trying to lie their way out of a bust on those damned TV shows. Adding insult to injury I swore ole Juan Carlos was grinning down at me from my pedestal like the Cheshire Cat as they pulled away from the curb.
“Okay, you win.” I said under my breath from the cold plastic back seat of the squad car.
While getting booked into County jail the sergeant asked twice; “Do you consider yourself a danger to yourself or others tonight, Mr. McGee?”
Thinking I would get another cell other than that damned stinking drunk-tank and prevent further confrontation with the Fedora, who had gone in cuffs before me, I answered, “Yeh, I am.”
“Let me ask you one more time,” the Sergeant impatiently asked again, “and answer so that I can hear you. Do you present a danger to yourself, or others, Mr. McGee?”
“Sir, Yes, Sir!” I answered boot camp style.
Three officers appeared out of the vapor: one behind me and one on each side. Next thing I knew I was being damned near carried to the Rubber-Room by my escorts.
Once in the cell I was ordered to drop to my knees. This was not so easy to do in cuffs; but, before I’d even bent a knee in compliance, my feet were kicked out from under by an officer from behind. I was driven face down to the concrete floor by the officers on each side, holding my arms as my pants were yanked off with very few deft moves on the part of the corrections officers. I had to admire the efficiency of the choreography. I hadn’t seen that move on Cops who were exceptionally polite in front of cameras.
The Rubber-Room had a bench, no toilet and the temperature was set so that only the most insane would want to stay in that room in underwear for more than ten minutes no matter how drunk. I passed time shivering that way.
The main thing was to get through the night. I was still insanely drunk but the antifreeze of Jack Daniel’s began to wear off and did no good. I tried exercising, doing jumping jacks, push-ups and pretending I was Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now flying around the cell in an imitation of drunk kung-fu. Sweat did nothing to keep me warm but reactivated the pepper spray. My eyes burned. When the nurse came by to check on me I got some water on my face and some valium to take the edge off the anticipated hang-over. After I got the valium, I accused the nurse of being a low-level Dr. Mengele’s: as though I was an innocent, persecuted by fascist oppression.
The night passed… the day began. I didn’t know how long I’d been in the cell. I was finally given some Jail-House pajamas and led to another cell where a bullet-proof-window with one of those grilled speaker holes separated me from a young woman whose decision would determine whether I would be let out on my own recognizance (O.R.) or rot in jail until a the day of my arraignment hearing. They had to reduce the felony drug possession charges down to a misdemeanor if I was going to get out that day.
The belligerence I came into the jail with had evaporated by the time I was photographed and finger-printed on the way out. I felt contrite to the female officer that led me through the process. “Oh man,” I said to her. Memories of the night before percolated up through the layers of booze and coke towards a bubble of consciousness and admitted, “What a mess I made of things.”
The officer was sympathetic and she assured me it would turn out alright.
Even though I’d been processed for release in the afternoon, I wasn’t let out until after three AM. No buses run at that time and I didn’t have a quarter to call Jimbo to get me downtown from the jail. I had to hike the five miles home.
The city automatically pulled cab licenses after any drug bust. Now I no longer had a job. I’d tossed out all my cash to Juan Carlos and, being unable to pay rent, I was going to be homeless too. I stayed at the hotel as long as I could sneak past Lucas, the desk clerk, or make up excuses if he caught me. Lucas was like a spider that caught almost anyone that touched his invisible web. When I finally got to my arraignment hearing I just plead guilty and was sentenced to time served, ordered to attend Zona Seca drug abuse classes that he had no money to pay for now that he was unemployed, and given three years’ probation.