In an alley on the fringes of the march, Glory stuffed toilet paper bits in her ears and got out of danger, whispering to the baby in her tummy, running deeper into the alley for safety.
Text me, she’d said to the father of her child Smith and his friend Archibald melted into the crowds massed in the middle of the boulevard. As more protesters marched down the city’s great hill into the downtown area, the amount of people in the constricted space grew. At the same time the police cordon moved in and squeezed the crowd.
What are the cops gonna do? Archibald asked, looking around.
I’ll give you three guesses.
Down front, by the entrance to the Hilton Hotel a group of fifty policemen were trapped, a blue island in the gathering sea of marchers. The police exchanged looks and there was a moment of silence, then a general murmuring.
Then the air turns electric with fear and suspense. The police with truncheons draw them and hold them across their chests. Those without, unbutton the flaps on their side weapons and hold their hands there. Paddy wagons appear two or three blocks away and empty patrolmen who walk in line with locked arms through the crowd. More cops on horses gallop their horses, one, then two and three abreast. They shout orders to DISPERSE. The policemen on foot move slowly with their batons across their chests and formed a line to break through and push the people from the street.
Archibald tapped Smith’s shoulder; they exchanged a look and Archibald went deeper into the crowd. Smith heard his dog bark a couple times then lost sight of Glory down an alley of them.
A few minutes later, Smith saw one of the younger Oakland underclassmen, Roadkill, his curly blond locks, cut short for this rally, get right up in the face a cop. The cop reached into his shirt and whipped out a silver can. A sudden stream, like something used to eradicate insects or weeds, came arching over the crowd in a long stream.
Roadkill went down to one knee and was lost in the swarm. Smith ran through the crowd to him. He was smacked across the face by someone blindly fleeing like a shooting light through a field of stars. Smith was almost knocked to the ground himself before he reached his friend. Smith dove into a pileup, grabbed Roadkill by the shirt, pulled him bodily and laid him down on a bench on the sidewalk.
People streamed by, faces wet with tears, from the spray, from frustration and fear, from yelling: pampered American children sent to college by their parents or the apathetic, bored parents, never treated by the police like this before. They wore looks of shock and disgust on their faces and got out their expensive phones and flash pictures of policeman with their clubs raised, smacking heads. They say things like:
Oh my fucking God.
Did you see what he just did?!
Smith raises his arms and pushes people back to make a space for his fallen friend. He yells, Stop taking pictures and give me a fucking hand here!
There’s nothing we can do! some girl yells back.
You can hold him and tell him it’s gonna be all right, Smith shouts and the girl steps up and took Roadkill’s hands in hers. She has curly black hair, a pretty girl about nineteen years old with very pale skin and a sweet smile. She puts her camera down at her feet and takes Roadkill’s hand. She strokes his forehead with her hand.
Around them the riot did not abate, from up in the Hills all through downtown where the cable cars. The police set up a truck with a tape loop on loudspeaker:
The march is now over! it said. Please disperse or be subject to arrest.
A detachment of six police officers in full riot gear stood by with truncheons held cross their waists at ready.
But by then they had lost control of the city. Marauding crowds wandered the streets unchecked. They hurled bricks through windows. They burned effigies on traffic islands. Ashes rained down like confetti and Smith Smith brushed them off his skin and out of his hair.
That police announcement is pissing people off, Roadkill said to the nice girl. He could not see; he could hear the people and he felt close to panic since the moment when the cop first sprayed him and he fell down. Something in him didn’t blame the policeman. He had yelled as loud as he could in the cop’s face. The second cop shrugged and held up the little canister. Roadkill had yelled again.
Fuck the police, he had screamed and the cop sprayed him right in the eyes.
Roadkill wanted action, if he got arrested, then so be it. He wanted something to happen. After he fell, he just hoped he would not be trampled. He thought he was arrested, but no one cuffed him and he heard the voice of Smith and he felt the girl’s hand stroke his forehead. His eyes hurt; he was hyperventilating. Thank God Smith pulled him out of there.
I got to go and see what else is going on, Smith told the two of them
Go, Roadkill said. Go man. I’ll be okay.
I’ll see you back up the hill, man.
The girl with the black hair smiled through her still tearing eyes and said, I’ll stay with him.
And that’s when Smith took off. He left them there on the bench and went off again into the crowd.
About three blocks away in another alley just opposite the new mall on The Haight at Asbury, where the hippies used to gather, Smith ducked into an alley between The Bank of America and the Adidas store. The alley runs behind the Beat coffee shop at a diagonal from Asbury and emerges by the large circular show window there for the Gucci store.
Behind a grimy dumpster Smith opened his pants to take a piss against the wall; he didn’t see the riot squad officer at first, who had followed him into the alley..
When Smith looked up and saw the cop, he tried to just walk past him and out of the alley. He was already headed that way and he wasn’t going to turn around and run. He didn’t want any trouble. The policeman stood there kind of cocky-like, black helmet, visor down, tapping his baton on the sidewalk. There was something about the cop that Smith recognized, but the uniform was one he’d never seen, like a mirror reflection of another time.
Hey man, what are you doing there? the officer shouted.
So Smith made his break. He tried to get by on the cops’s right side. The policeman, maybe to defend himself, raised the baton up to block the exit.
When Smith felt the blow of the hard wood against his face, something snapped and he reacted as any former Spec-Ops man would. The blow caught him right across the bridge of his nose, broke the skin and he started gushing blood like a low-card boxer. He bounced off the alley wall, and grabbed the startled officer’s truncheon and jammed it into his windpipe. He caught him in the space just below his protective face-shield. Then the tear gas hit him. The cop had gotten worse than him, though. Smith coughed and through his tears, he saw the policeman hit the deck, gasping from breath.
Smith fell to one knee over the fallen man. He didn’t think. He didn’t see the people watching from the department store entranceway across the Haight Street thoroughfare. The automatic street lights popped on. Soon it would be dusk, but the dark had been coming on for a long time. There had no sun at all that day, just rain in the morning and gray, raw skies all day.
The policeman twitched and coughed. They were barely three feet deep in the alleyway. Smith heard virtually the same sound as Roadkill had made, but fainter, a wheezing gasp, from behind the visor; he could not see the man’s eyes or face.
The cop went slack and heavy. Smith heard him trying to breathe. Drool came down the man’s chin, pink with blood and dots of foam, something between a wheeze and a gasp, his arms grasped spasmodically for air.
Smith yanked at the helmet.
Which was when Smith saw the group of cops headed toward them. They had not seen him yet: there was too much confusion and noise. There was the light mist and the glaring lights, but they were coming his way. Smith pulled the helmet the rest of the way off, pulled the officer over on his side and then he took off and left the man there on the ground in the alley. He thought of Glory and he thought of their baby as he ran fifty feet down the alley before he looked back; the cops had seen him. They were five of them, bent down over the fallen officer.
One called out, and when he turned Smith glanced up and saw the cameras on the walls, but there was nothing he could do about that now but pray, so Smith kept running the other way toward the turn at the end of the alley that opened on the mall. He ran back past the Gucci store and disappeared into the crowds.
One of the cops in the alley shouted, Hey! Stop! and gave a few steps chase but in vain. They called for an ambulance. A policeman had cleared the fallen officer’s throat. He vomited and caught his breath. If it had not been for the actions of the man who struck him in self defense the officer might have indeed lost consciousness from a combination of the blow to the solar plexus and the inhalation of his own tear gas spray. When he came to and could speak, after a few moments, he told anyone who would listen what happened. It’s like that when you almost die. Which any junkie knows. Not that this guy was, the cop in question.
Our cousin Smith stopped a few blocks away, under the statue that faces to the west. He kneeled down and vomited, from the killer gas, heaving and then lay down with his cheek on the sidewalk. A few protesters passed by; one asked if he needed help, said OSPREY, a code word for distress in social action circles, but Use waved them off.
Then he passed out. He was not sure how long was unconscious. Someone, a cop kicked his leg. Use came to across the street from the Westin Hotel on a bench looking at the statue of the horseman. It was dark now.
The cop who waked him said, You better clear out, buddy. This area is restricted.
The policeman had brown hair and eyes, a regs mustache, he helped Smith to his feet, leaned him by his shoulder up against the wall. I’ll be back around in a half hour, he said. Clean up and clear out by then.
Hey, do you know what time it is?
The officer checked his watch. Almost four, he said. Smith got out his phone and texted Glory.
A man in a devil suit with a horned mask carried a cardboard black chainsaw with a smiley face. Police reinforcements passed Smith in full riot gear, storm boots and jet-black baseball catcher style shin guards. A long haired man with a Fender Stratocaster played a lazy blues, his amplifier in a shopping cart. A bicyclist fixed a flat tire, in helmet and oxygen mask. An older gray haired woman in a pink blanket on a park bench held a wet towel to her left eye, tired, determined and proud, listening to an excited young man beside her blow off steam.
I swear it. I swear to fucking God, the man said as Smith passed them.
A sad woman in a bright red jacket held up both hands in peace signs, middle of the Haight, unaware of a crew of young men that followed behind her, mohawked, hooded with black bandannas over their faces. A light rain began to fall, casting a glistening glow to lights. Two young women walked by, red-scarved, shirtless with black stars on the nipples of their pendulous breasts. Next to them three Frenchmen in blue parkas and white May day golf hats. On the sidewalk young people with bright orange wool hats, chanted: Peace, Hope, Life. With them another crew in pajamas and South American parkas unfurled a long banner as they passed in the street: Speak against it. See it change. Another group of young women, dressed in transparent plastic jumpsuits strolled along the boulevard. They carried a bed sheet emblazoned with the legend: Strippers and Sex Workers against the Occupy West Coast. They all wore glasses and had their hair done up in buns like librarians.
A small clutch of businessmen with ties flapping in the breeze, one holding a folded newspaper over his bald pate to keep off the drizzle, waded slowly into the crowded street and quietly talked to a group of kids. One man held a twenty-dollar bill out, but no one would take it. National Guardsmen arrived in Hummers in full green jungle camouflage, Kevlar helmets and M-16 rifles at the ready. A thin woman with perfect cheekbones, pale white makeup with pink spotted cheeks dressed in colorful gypsy dress and black leggings stopped on a corner to smoke a cigarette, watch the long parade, with her private thoughts. Another group of five men in trench coats with ear-pieces escorted a tall diplomat who stopped, and with a pained, diffident glance around, shook his head and climbed into a waiting limousine.
Four leather clad young people walked down the hill out of a cloud of tear gas, handkerchiefs over their mouths, wiping their eyes. One of the men with long hair and a scraggly beard put his hand up to warn Smith.
Smith stopped to ask, How far does it go?
At least a couple of blocks, the man said.
Smith nodded, put his bandanna over his mouth and disappeared into the crowd.
In a bus station once he remembered a gray rain spit day in Baghdad, must have been 2005, the first bullets sounded like buzzing bees and were an irritant; guys ducked, craned their necks, protected their faces with their hands. The man next to him got hit in the hand and blood splashed through the air. There was a moment of dislocation, of he’s not here, this is not happening in real time, this is a movie. East St. Louis Leo, a half-black, half Italian kid from the bad side of the banks of the great Mississippi river got hit in the nose.
New research suggests that a body can disappear from one end of the universe out of sight and reappear at the opposite end, that rather than infinite in all directions the scope of the universe as we tend to call it may be quite limited in some directions, that perhaps a body can travel some distance in a direction but never reach a destination and travel the same distance in another direction and actually make it back to earth.
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