I am a human being. I come from the union and abrupt disunion of a man and woman who went on to form other unions and dissolution of said unions–in due course of time. I am a man yet I feel like a pathogen. I walk in the city, the city that gave birth to me—and my mother and father—the city whose shadows cast over me—head to toe—hiding my face, attempting to swallow me. I have a strange relationship with my city–the city upon whose streets I took my first steps. It slowly became disdainful, as if the fact that I was born in it were a source of shame—something to be extricated. It sees me as a pathogen, something to be exorcised from its streets, its public spaces—something that should be hosed and put down the drain. But I still walk the streets, a 5 foot 9 inch, 185 pound pathogen. Why the hell should I leave–I’m from here.
So here I am, a full grown pathogen working as a housing rights advocate carrying a bullhorn into the courthouse downtown. A friend of mine–a housing advocate–is being evicted from her home of more than 30 years. Poor lady, not quite a pathogen but they are treating her like one. A near pathogen who never missed paying rent in 30 years suddenly evicted because the new landlord wants to jack up the rent—a landlord that considers rent control the biggest pathogen of all.
Why am I carrying a bullhorn? Well, we had a rally for my friend, the one being evicted, and I brought the bullhorn to break through the defeaning silence of my town. The politicians must have jumbo marshmallows stuffed in their ears. The more the people cry out for housing justice, the less they are heard. Those supervisors, those committee members entrusted with the public interest—it seems that anything that benefits the people is discounted, maligned or plain ignored. But back to the bullhorn. I carry it like a cop carries a gun. I think it gives me power—power of my voice. But it wasn’t always that way. For much of my life my voice has been stuck in my throat in a knot trying to articulate thoughts and feelings in fits and starts. But with this bullhorn I have found my voice. You should hear me: What do we want…Justice! When do we want it…NOW!
On this day, the bullhorn decided to go AWOL. The thing didn’t work. Some kind of malfunction. I bought new batteries, jamming them into the place where batteries get jammed and still the thing refused to work–refused to join my voice to create a bigger voice and ensuing waves of revolution, undulating in the way a roll of toilet paper would do an a violent windstorm. I spoke into the mouthpiece and nobody heard anything. So I had to speak with my own voice—no amplification—just solo. After stuttering and lisping my way through the injustice of evictions, chanting and more chanting, I entered the courthouse.
As a pathogen, I am acutely aware of law enforcement, who are pathogen-free—or so it seems. I enter a line where I wait to pass through a checkpoint—replete with a metal detector—to make sure no weapons are on my person. The checkpoint is manned (and, on occasion, womaned) and maintained by San Francisco sheriffs deputies of various ranks ranging from cadet to other higher ups.
The deputies have a variety of implements on their belts—mace, guns and other cumbersome accoutrements that appear to weigh them down. It almost appears as if their pants could slide down exposing God knows what. But many of the deputies hook their thumbs on their belts and thrust their hips foward—as if urinating–insuring that none of their parts, should they dangle or come loose, fall to the floor.
I get to the front. I take off my belt, remove my coins, keys and cell phone and deposit it all in a plastic basket. I walk towards the metal detector. The deputy looks at me.
“What’s that?” he asks, looking at the bullhorn.
The deputy is a muscular guy who looks like he’s beaten more than eggs in his life. And just when I’m about to answer his question, a voice comes out of nowhere.
“What the fuck you think it is, a coffee pot?”
The deputy glares at me. He seems to grow by the second. His badge even seems to grow.
“Oh, a smart ass, huh?”
“Hey, I didn’t say anything”
He snatched the bullhorn from my hand and put it on conveyor belt to be scanned. The other deputies gather around a video monitor like chimps watching a commercial for Chiquita bananas.
“What is it? Said one deputy.
“It looks like a coffee pot” said another deputy
“Kinda looks like a giant snow cone” said another deputy
“It actually looks like a vibrator” said yet another deputy
The bullhorn made it through the conveyor belt/scanner in one piece and so did I. I gathered my belongings and headed towards the elevator.
“You can’t use the bullhorn inside the courtroom or anywhere inside the building” said a deputy.
“No shit” a voice replied.
“Yes sir!” I said, entering the elevator. I pushed the button for the 6th floor.
The elevator took its sweet assed time. I had to get to the 6th floor and it took forever to get to the 2nd floor.
“You’re a real shit” a voice said.
I looked at the bullhorn in my hand.
“Did you say that?” I asked.
“Well, it sure wasn’t your d**k…and that ain’t sayin’ much”
“Hey, watch your fuckin’ mouth”
“What are you gonna do, start chanting?
“This is serious business, ok? An eviction case, and I don’t need you fucking me up…understand?
Suddenly I heard the sound of a violin.
“Cry me a river” said the bullhorn
“You got a name? I asked.
“Yeah, the bullhorn replied. “It’s bullhorn…motherfucker”
We finally get to the 6th floor. I walk through the halls looking for room 620. A sherrifs deputy walks towards me.
“Be quiet, don’t say nothin’” I say to the bullhorn under my breath.
I almost pass the deputy when a voice calls out: Hey handjob, you know where 620 is?
I look at the deputy. My heart begins its speedbag routine.
“What did you just say?
“No, I think you said something. Come with me”
I follow him to the elevator. We head back to the first floor–the checkpoint.
“Who let this asshole in here” said the deputy, motioning towards me. I looked at the deputies. Their glances fall on me as if I were a garbage bin—not compost or recycle—just regular trash.
“What’s with the bullhorn?” You can’t use that in here” a black deputy said.
“It doesn’t work, it’s broken” I replied, holding it up like a trumpet.
“Don’t give me that Miles Davis shit” said the black deputy, not feeling the melody. He yanked the bullhorn away. I stood there, frightened that the little man or ghost or spirit that inhabited the bullhorn might say something else. The deputy looked inside the bullhorn, sticking his nose in first, then the rest of his face.
“You one big, stupid lookin’ motherfucker” a voice said. I stood cringing.
“It was you! A Chinese deputy said, pointing at me.
“Yeah” said a white deputy with a deep tan. “He’s one of those guys who throws his voice—a ventrickulist”
“You mean ventriliquist” I said.
The deputies glared at me.
“Look” I said. “I don’t know where the voice is coming from. You said I throw my voice. Hell, I can’t even throw a tennis ball, much less a pair of dice”.
The bullhorn was shoved back into my hands.
“You give us anymore shit and we’ll shove that bullhorn so far up your ass that you’ll be an alto–and i ain’t talkin’ about a sax” said a deputy who appeared to be the main shot caller. As I walked towards the elevator, the shot caller deposited a very firm, very swift–hard and well-intentioned–kick into my ass. I looked back and was blinded by his smile.
I walked past the deputies, bullhorn in hand whispering “Shut your damn mouth and stay quiet”. I got to the elevator and navigated my way upwards and get off on the 6th floor. I make my way to Judge Kitteridge’s courtroom. I get there. It is full except for an empty seat. I take it. 2 Asian deputies sit near the wall. A gaggle of court staff await the judge, their pores soaked in the perfume of power and authority. One of the deputies give me a stern look. The other deputy says: All rise…the honorable judge blah blah blah presiding.
The judge enteres. He doesn’t take a seat. His brilliant head of gray hair gives off a glow of florescent nights locked away in law libraries and walk-in closets.
“Be seated please”
The judge called the cases on the docket. He explained the procedures/protocols he requires from counsel and made it clear the things that annoy him. I looked at the faces in the courtroom. My eyes fell on my friend, who, after 30 years of residence in her building, is being evicted—through no fault of her own—but because the landlord wants to sell the building. She’s the last remaining tenant in her rent controlled building. She wants to stay in her home, her community. The judge heard the attorneys in other cases state their various positions. The judge stood, hips thrust out, arms crossed—like the narrow assed deputies who seemed to all have John Wayne’s marrow in their bones.
One fellow, a young guy, was in court representing himself. The judge asked him why he hadn’t paid his outstanding rent and why he’d waited so long to address the problem. The young man said that his mother had normally taken care of those things but had died and that he had become depressed. The judge looked at the young man.
“What’s your educational background?” the judge asked.
The young man stood silent.
“Cut the fucking bullshit, judge!” a voice called out.
The deputies looked at me.
“Yeah judge, I remember you” the voice said. “I remember you when you used to walk around with shit stains in your underwear, afraid to walk down the street for fear you’d get your ass whipped. I’ll bet you still got shit stains in your designer underwear. It took you forever to get laid–how old were you, 30?”.
“Detain that man!” the judge said, pointing at me, his well tanned face turning red.
The two deputies came around the table towards me.
“Up your ass, judge! Up your ass!” the voice kept repeating.
The deputies looked at me and realized my lips weren’t moving. They looked at the bullhorn, perplexed. A deputy picked it up and held it like a trumpet. “What the hell?” he said.
The voice was clear as it vibrated from the bullhorn across the courtroom, making the walls move. Its words: What do we want…JUSTICE! When do we want it…NOW!
(c) 2015 Tony Robles