Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Wrapped Up Like a Criminal Justice System, Part I
If I may, I'd like to take you, the reader, on a journey—a journey to a simpler time, a time when men were men, and Schwarzneggers were actors, and "Yahoo!" was just something you said when you got laid, which I never did—the golden olden swollen days of July 1996. Picture a young whippersnapper, fresh (well, a year-and-a-half fresh) off the boat from Reno and wide-eyed at the phantasmagorical wonder that was Manhattan. That was me, and since I had nothing better to do (being in the midst of a four-year bout of involuntary celibacy and related social ineptitude), I found myself one day agreeing to play with a trio on a street corner for tips. In those days any opportunity to play was considered a good thing, and the more horrible the experience, the more an aspiring music ascetic could feel he was really "paying dues" and transforming himself from shiny suburban band-geek to grizzly world-weary urban jazzbo. The organizer was a French drummer—nice guy, but not a fan of deodorant, unfortunately. He assured me that people did this sort of thing all the time, so we made our way across the village to Sheridan Square, at 7th Ave. and Christopher Street, less than a block from the famous Stonewall, and within shouting distance of real jazz venues like the Village Vanguard, Smalls, and Sweet Basil. (Only the Vanguard is still around.)

My previous experiences with New York outdoor playing had been harmless enough—the only trouble we'd run into happened one afternoon when two cops approached me and my co-buskers in Washington Square Park and said, "Don't get us wrong, we like the music, but when we come back, you guys might wanna be gone." (No mention of crackin' skulls, but we chose not to make an issue of it at the time. This was before certain members of the NYPD started making a habit of turning unarmed people into Swiss cheese.) This particular concerto al fresco started in a similarly innocuous way, with a small crowd of passersby gathering to listen to our particular brand of college-kid jazz, clapping and even dropping the occasional dollar in the pungent French guy's bass drum case.

Within ten or fifteen minutes, however, a burly guy in a polo shirt was mumbling quietly and strangely to us, and it was only after I saw his little badge-necklace that I realized he was one of New York's finest, and we were being given three of the millions of quality-of-life summons mandated by Hizzonner Rudy Giuliani (not yet the secular saint he was later to be canonized, he was mainly known then for his Tough-On-Crime-and-Dung-Art stance), who insisted there were no quotas—and yet the cop could have told us to leave, but chose to issue us all summonses instead. "There's lots of jazz clubs around here," he pointed out, "why don't you people play there?" Indeed—I couldn't wait to go to the Vanguard and tell them that Officer Krupke had insisted my band play at their club. ("I know you guys have Herbie Hancock booked for next week, but the cops said we have to play here. Sorry. You can put your stuff over there, Pierre.")

Of course, some of the more civics-minded members of the crowd started giving the cops a hard time for ticketing us: "This is New York," said a greasy old guy holding an open beer in a paper bag, "people come here to play, you gotta let 'em play!" Our polo-shirt friend promptly gave him a ticket, too, which seemed to break up la resistance. After the fuzz left, I took my summons and my $3 share of the earnings and bought a lousy burrito made by a Korean guy.

Through a boring series of events, I missed my original court date, but Le Drummer a L'Odore, who had gone when he was supposed to, told me he sat in a courtroom for a few hours before the judge said "Unreasonable noise? What does that mean?" and dismissed the charge. Great, I thought, I'm in the clear! If he threw that one out, I'm sure mine was tossed, too! Well, duh, says everyone, including my older self—of course not, you idiot. But it was easier to forget about it... right? All that changed when, six years later and two time zones away, I happened to stumble upon a repeat episode of NYPD Blue...

Will the Law catch up with our young hero? Will he be sentenced to 10-20 years of pre-reviewing submissions to McSweeney's or the Reader's Digest joke page? Will he flee the country and fall in love with the buxom teenage daughter of a Lithuanian sword swallower? Tune in tomorrow!

To Be Continued...