Fur Flies in Berkeley’s People’s Parks, Sans Drugs

by Steed Dropout
January 7, 2012

It was just another down-day in the hood.

This time drugs, and booze were not involved. It was just another bad mood day, after a week of bad SF Bay Area “bad air days,” and my usual winter depression.

I lay in bed for hours unable to move. Should I get groceries, go to the gym, the Caffe Med, or just go crazy. Drink or drugs were not an option.

Falling back on my goal setting psychotherapy, a type of behavioral therapy, I set a simple goal. Get out of my apartment, one-half block from notorious People’s Park, and skirt the park on my way to Telegraph.

If I could make the Ave., I might make a day, I thought.

That’s when I saw the tent in People’s Park. You rarely see tents in the park. They’re prohibited.

The tent, a good-looking rig of colorful fabric, and low-tech steel rods, was going up no more than 10 feet from a park rules sign — banning tents.

Illegal tent in People's Park when 'fur flew.' I am about to investigate story I already knew. Photo by Ted Friedman.

Its bummed-out erector, was a petite young traveling woman, last encamped at Occupy Oakland. She wore the expressionless face of a depressive, in what was to be for me a day of not drawing a laugh — and worse.

I desperately needed to draw that laugh.


My first move was to check my park facts with the rules sign. Yep — no tents, which I relayed to her. “You’ll probably just get a warning,” I reassured her, and she re-assured me she was keeping the tent up, once she got it up.

Nothing more to accomplish, I headed the half-block to the Ave., and the Med, which was dead.

Emerging from Bongo Burger, adjoining the park, I saw first the university police squad car, and then two officers near the tent. The officers will never know that I delivered the first warning to tent-girl, because they not only didn’t like my jokes — they despised me.

I despised me. Nothing sucks like a failed comedian, which I know all too well from my failed night-club comedy career back in the late 70s.


Tent-girl had left her tent unattended, while she went to the other end of the park, as a veteran Berkeley Cop-Watch videographer, aimed his tiny camera at the giant-cops, like a pea-shooter.

I tried, unsuccessfully, to crack up the cop-watcher, whom I’ve known since 1976, but when he’s on watch, he’s at some sexual point of no return. Did the cops associate me with the “menacing” voyeur?

“Good afternoon,” officers, I soothed. I’m a reporter from. . . . “Is the girl leaving?”

“Ask our public information officer; we can’t talk to you.”

I hate the PIO gambit, and should not have said, “I can get my own info right here.”

Do you have a press card,” they asked. I came close to saying, “I don’t need no stinking badge” (like your stinking badge?). I left out the joke, as I looked into their cold cold eyes.

“I know the drill,” I said. “You can’t talk because you don’t want to get fired and lose your pension.” This was a joke requiring an explanation — the worst kind of joke, and really just irony, a poor relative to humor.

“I knew you would be difficult,” one of the two officer’s said.

“Difficult?” I asked, “how am I being difficult?”

“You’re arguing with me,” the wise-guy said.

“Sir,” I said gravely, “I taught argumentation at the university [Hawaii, 1967-70], and I could teach you a few things about argument.”

That cut it.

The whole screwed-embroilment was like my “Expletives Fly in Panoramic Hills” yarn last year in my paper, during which I threatened to slug a citizen.

Anyone who has read my cops ‘n robbers pieces in the Planet will know that I dig joking with, and “schmoozing” cops. Were these cops unschmoozable?

“Would you answer my question if I were from Ch 4?”

“Of course,” said the officer.

“Do you live in Berkeley?” I asked; “Oops I know I’ll have to ask the PIO that question,” I added. “I ask because, you should be reading the local paper.”

“I’m an Oakland Tribune reader,” the cop said.

“It shows,” I, fortunately, failed to retort.

Berkeley police, including the chief, read me. What was wrong with these university cops?

Tent controversy folds in People's Park, as two cops take notes. They didn't want to talk to me, but said quite a lot. Photo by Ted Friedman.

Tent-girl packed up her tent and left. I returned to the Ave., vowing to either get some better jokes or stop fucking with my stolid police sources.

You’ve slogged through another Steed Dropout tome. Who knows? A Dropout piece today, “War and Peace”, tomorrow.

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