Sunday, September 6, 2009

Scary Monsters

In which the Flaneur examines two recent stories in the news that extend close to home...

In a town in New Jersey, a police officer, a young woman, approached an unfashionably dressed individual who was walking in the rain. He wore a raincoat with his hood up and black sweat pants tucked into rubber boots.
Someone had phoned in suspicions about an individual who seemed to be prowling. He had entered the yard of a house-for-sale and looked in its window. The man who turned out to be sixty-eight years of age was asked for his name and identification.
He lacked an ID but he gave his name as Bob Dylan. The police officer later said that she had heard of this well-known name. Although she was not particularly familiar with what he looked like, she was pretty sure that this weather-beaten fellow was not him. She assumed that he was playing cute or was delusional, or both.
He told her he was in the area to play a concert. He said he was just walking around. This neighborhood was where Bruce Springsteen had been living when he wrote his first two albums of songs. It is not known whether he offered this as an explanation at the time.
The officer disregarded his claims and demanded that the police accompany him back to the concert venue where his identification would have to be produced.
This was done with no objection from the rainy night-walker. Back in his own environment Bob Dylan's passport was shown to them. The police accepted that they had been told the truth and departed. Mr. Dylan said he harbored no resentment over the incident.
He apparently had been making an effort during his down-time while touring, to visit the homes of fellow song-writers he admired. He had gone to see the childhood home of Neil Young in Ontario. In Liverpool he had joined a regular tour bus group to visit the old home of John Lennon.
Perhaps this supplies evidence of Mr Dylan's eccentricity. Some people enjoy having their smug assumptions confirmed. The sight of celebrities who have lost it is very popular--look no further than the hilarity surrounding celebrity mug-shots. Just think, there was nearly a new one of Bob Dylan. Everyone looks like such a loser in a mug-shot.
To me it says more about the bizarre conditions prevalent today in these united police states. Cops think their primary duty is to menace anyone who looks poor or alone in the world. To subject them to floating check-points, to make them feel unwelcome wherever they are, and to prevent them from finding peace and rest. Most of all to target those who complain, who don't have their ID, who exhibit any contempt for these bullies in their squad cars, those who don't bow down to "His majesty, the Policeman."

Berkeley likes to think it is different from the other more intolerant reaches of the country. That's why the slippery eel of a mayor and his cohort piped-up loudly when a study identified Berkeley as one of the ten meanest cities to the homeless. He actually defended laws targeting the homeless by unintentionally paraphrasing the old French tongue-in-cheek canard. The one that says that the State in its justice enforces the law against sleeping under bridges equally to both the rich and the poor. Meanwhile you see multiple police cars roll up to disgorge burly cops scowling at one malnourished guy sitting on a sidewalk.
On campus, they have a plaque commemorating the Free Speech Movement, but there's scant free speech these days. If you attempt to voice anything anti-establishment you will be observed by agents and cops who will slyly videotape you for future use. That is unless you are at an "Israel wants Peace" table or at a demonstration demanding regime change in Iran. If you want to demonstrate against, oh say, John Yoo's presence on campus you will be strictly monitored and regulated. And videotaped.

But cranks and crack-pots continue to turn out on Sproul plaza nevertheless. Most are paranoid enough to assume that they already are under constant surveillance anyway. I live nearby and I walk there often so I sometimes see them, and on occasion I encounter them.
So it was on a recent Summer afternoon.

I recall the cartoons of Basil Wolverton in the old Mad magazine. He specialized in drawing portraits of the ugliest gals and goofiest guys in minutely cross-hatched pen and ink. He was really a modern master of the Boschean grotesque.*
On one late afternoon as I crossed busy Sproul plaza, an individual walked toward me extending some printed matter. If Basil Wolverton was given an assignment to render his most devastating portrait of a "super-creep," it could easily look precisely like this creature.
He approached under a shadow of his own malodorous tidings, staring with a needy, beseeching look as if at a target, as if at prey. He rapidly tried to get me to take a copy his screed. I gave him my Irish cop look, fixing him in a scrutinizing glare. "What the hell do you think you are doing here?" read my unmistakable thought balloon as I ignored his gesture.
I was stirred to smite this demonic thing, like any saintly knight would do.
He pivoted away after another easier-going passerby. I watched him a little then went on in my intended direction, disturbed to a real but fading degree.

Was it two weeks later in August when word that a girl taken eighteen years ago had been recovered in the hands of her kidnapper? She had borne him two daughters while confined to a semi-concealed backyard compound in Antioch, California. Not far away.
Another cruel story of the bizarre that at least resulted in continued life and in triage for the years of psychological trauma. Yet as the story unfolded, how utterly bizarre it evidently all was. Subject to grandiose delusions, the perpetrator, Philip Garrido, was a cut-and-dried sexual criminal of long-standing well-known to the authorities. The police and probation officers had visited his home while on-duty a number of times. Yet somehow they never had been troubled to actually look around to the back of the house. To the squalid shacks and tents where the girl lived with her two daughters by the lord of the manner.
"Repeat sex-offender with a secret backyard compound, that sort of thing doesn't interest us."
The police were informed by a neighbor of his that a "psychotic with sexual addictions" lived there and had children living in tents. Even then he received only a front-door courtesy call concerning laws about inadequate housing.

Then lo and behold! The on-line version of the old Oakland-based local news ran the in-court photographs of this maestro of hill-billy grand guignol. That skull the way the upper-jaw looks balanced on a severed spine and then reanimated. That protuberant artery snaking down his temple...
Then the camera caught his eyes! It was the demoniac from Sproul!
"Phil the Creep" as he was known to his neighborhood kids. He'd been nabbed when he showed up to ask the UC cops for a permit to hold a religious recruitment event. He had apparently arrived with two little blonde home-schooled stepford children. Obviously unstable, he nonetheless agreed to come to another meeting. In the meantime they at last connected his horrendous record as a sex-offender to the reality of his current daily routine life. The next time he came in he brought his "older daughter" along too. She was in fact the twenty-nine year old mother of the two young girls. She had taken by him outside of her home near Lake Tahoe, on her way to school when she herself was an eleven-year old girl.
The children are said to have cried when they learned Garrido had been arrested.

A miscreant named Carpenter who they called the Trailside Killer, made taunting phone calls from a Telegraph avenue public phone. The Unabomber once lived on a nearby street behind the supermarket. And of course the infamous Charles Manson visited Telegraph avenue in its hey day. They all seem to come here and sometimes you pass them on the street. You are usually unaware of it when it happens. Or perhaps you may be momentarily put on guard as instinct tells you that you are in the presence of one who has given himself or herself over to evil.

*Wolverton's work evolved into a visceral, Hans Bellmer-like pop surrealism with figures said to look like atomic radiation casualties. He prefigured Zap comics in going over the top whenever possible.