scene of the crime














Tours of the Haight


The riot into which Jimmy, Cathy, Edna, and Hank stroll is a stationary, standing-around riot waiting for itself to happen. They walk west on Haight, through people unsure they approve of themselves for rioting. The most-unsure stand on the sidewalk, the quasi-sure along the curbs, the pretty-sure in the street. Half the clamor comes from people yelling at others not to riot, to get off the street, maintain peace, don’t bring down the fuzz. There are no cops on the scene yet. Wise drivers turn away at Masonic Avenue, move to side streets, a few find themselves stuck, are waved through by guys, almost all are guys, on the edges of the street, along the gutters.

They pass the Psychedelic Shop. The voices come louder now, chants burst, ripple, die. A wire trashbasket lies on its side in the street. Jimmy’s self is in question: what is he here, to these people, to this place? The Haight is not his turf. He sees it as Digger territory. He admires The Diggers. They are brazen, communitarian, audacious redistributors of food, medical care, street-wisdom, protectors of the fold. He is not one of them. He is

“Just watching,” says Cathy beside him.

They find Joe, who edits The Movement, at the corner of Clayton Street. “The cops busted a couple of guys selling acid,” he says. “Then as you can see, all golly gee broke loose.” The five of them, arrogant 'revolutionary tourists' (Jimmy’s answer to who are we?), stand on the rounded curb, schemers without a scheme. A gouteed kid in a fringed jacket runs from under a streetlamp, sets fire to a piece of paper, a napkin, handbill, drops it on the street, runs back. The paper curls and blackens.

“This is ridiculous,” says Edna.

Joe says:

“The Prime Directive forbids us from interfering with alien cultures.”

A wine bottle is thrown into the street near the ashes, shattering. The sound of glass breaking a block away (a window?) intensifies the shouts nearby. The voices of those arguing not to riot rise to riot level, therefore becoming part of the riot. Jimmy has stepped to the curb. The others stand somewhere behind him, within the light of the streetlamp reflected from glass store windows. Joe, beside him when the bottle was thrown, turns toward a disturbance on Clayton, people running. Jimmy is bunched into a line of kids at the curb, the one to his left yelling, “Pigs out of the Haight!” though there are no pigs in sight. He swivels to glimpse Cathy. Jimmy knows his friends are somewhere near. The noise fragments them. He hopes they stay in the light.

He turns his attention to the street as a tan car slams to a stop almost in front of him, angled against the sidewalk. He takes an instinctive step back.

That which takes place before our eyes is known to us, understood, comprehended, almost, but not quite, immediately. First, the phenomena of color, shape, motion, sound. Pure event without meaning or content, awaiting judgement. Then, almost immediately, we make sense of our senses.

Phenomenon: tan car, four-door.

Judgement: unmarked cop car.

Phenomenon: three men in open shirts, slacks, and jeans exit the two rear doors and the front passenger door.

Judgement: Tac Squad goons.

Goon, applied to the San Francisco Police Department’s Tactical Unit, is neither an emotive nor subjective term. Somewhere in their job description, the word goon must appear. Their job, their professional purpose, is to apply excessive force in situations like this. The three tan Tac Squad goons stand by their respective tan car doors scanning the crowd, carnivores seeking meat. Jimmy takes another step back. The kid to his left waves a fist, yells, “Motherfucking pigs!” The cop nearest the kid, at the open right rear door, interprets that gesture to mean Meat over here. He steps past Jimmy, seizes the kid by digging the fingers of one hand into the kid’s right biceps, disabling that arm, the other hand twisting the kid’s shirt into a neck knot. The kid, too startled to resist, is yanked by those two points forward, off the curb, through the right rear car door, into the car, the cop behind him.

The kid’s disappearance and the fading of bystanders leaves a hole around Jimmy, who requires a definition of self to know what to do. What does a revolutionary tourist do? He is paralyzed by the contradiction. A tourist runs back to the hotel. A revolutionary takes charge, acts against oppression. Bound by these images, he reverts to what a Jimmy would do, a much younger Jimmy, say four years ago, 1964, when he’s working on the waterfront, following the Free Speech Movement in the papers, when merely speaking out was revolutionary.

Jimmy the Younger stretches his arms out at his sides, yells at the Tac Squad cop by the left rear car door, “You can’t do that!”

Phenomenon: Jimmy protests.

Judgement by cop: More meat.

The cop says to Jimmy, “Okay, you too,” takes the first of four long strides toward him. The cop is twelve feet away. A thousand and one, a thousand and two, a thousand and three still to come. Jimmy does not run. He is in the light, ten feet from darkness, Clayton Street, a crowd; the cop would not chase him, plenty of meat around without deserting the car. Jimmy does not plan to fight the cop; he is big but the cop is hefty, armed, professional. Get the fuck out of here, cry the sidewalk, the streetlamp, the you-have-no-place-hereness of the situation. Jimmy does not run.

Jimmy does not run because somewhere behind him are Cathy, Joe, Hank, Edna. If he runs, the goon may grab one of them, and what would Jimmy have been doing? Running. He does not know exactly where each of them are; he cannot make a decision affecting their fate without their knowledge. To use a legal phrase, responsibility attaches. He cannot run. One thousand and three. The cop may yet be distracted, change his mind.

One thousand and four. The cop seizes Jimmy’s arm, but not at the bicep, at the elbow, awkwardly. Jimmy pulls back, stretching the space between himself and the brushcut skull that wants him in the car. And now, someone has laid hands on Jimmy from the other side, pulling him away from the cop, who now cannot grab Jimmy by two points. It is Cathy. She screams at the cop to let him go. The cop’s grip is rock. His left hand, which was supposed to go behind Jimmy to seize him by the neck, moves too late. His arm is grabbed as it swings, held astounded by Edna, who throws her weight, half that of the cop’s, backward. The cop is stupified. He cannot shake the girl on his arm. He does not want to bust her, he wants the guy, whom he cannot release, and he cannot reach the screaming girl on the kid’s far side, he is in a playground tug of war, in one second busted from Tac Squad elite to schoolyard bully. Immobilized. Who knows what could hit him from behind.

Jimmy, Cathy, and Edna are winning. But there is a third cop, the one by the passenger door, whose response has been delayed by the phenomenological problem. He needs to understand the meaning of what he sees in order to act upon it.

Phenomenon: two hippie chicks fighting.


Rejudgement: attacking my partner.

Rule: we’re ordered not to arrest girls tonight.

Phenomenon: between his partner and the girls is a young man.

Judgement: I know that sonofabitch.

Dealing with the hippie chick on his partner’s left arm is easy. He takes three running strides, bodyblocks the cunt, knocks her across the sidewalk into the plate glass window. His left arm freed, his partner fastens Jimmy by forearm and armpit, a classic hold; he is a cop once more; he blesses his partner, who piledrives Cathy’s shoulder with an elbow, knocks her hand away from Jimmy’s arm, pushes her backward onto the sidewalk, kicks at her, misses, feels humiliated.

Jimmy’s cop maneuvers his prisoner to the left rear door of the tan car, which has closed. He has to open the door. There is no chance for the prisoner to escape; his partner stands ready at the passenger door to block a run for it. This gives Jimmy time to see Cathy pick herself up and to call out to her in a cool voice, “I’ll be okay. Don’t worry.” He believes what he says. The cop shoves him into the backseat next to the first kid, gets in beside him. The doors slam. The car starts up slowly, turns right on Clayton.

It is best that Jimmy not recall the tea leaf reading in Boston three months ago.

a grey filing cabinet

The riot vanishes. The world is six men in a car, which turns right on Clayton. The cop in the front passenger seat swivels, looks full at the young man wedged between his partner and the first kid they grabbed. His look is professional, maybe satisfied.

“You shouldn’t have been in the Haight tonight, Jimmy,” he says.

Jimmy doesn’t think, he feels, doomed. Doom is a tan car, metal, enveloping.

The cop in the front seat lets that sink in, attends to the other prisoner. “What’s your name?”


“You called me a motherfucker,” says the cop, and roundhouses Rick in the face. The swung fist passes Jimmy’s head. He hears Rick’s inability to breathe. His thoughts concentrate to a few. One thought is that the tan car is not headed in the direction of the Park Precinct Station, five blocks south and west, but north. The other is that the officer between him and the door has moved his right hand to the base of Jimmy’s neck and is squeezing. This makes no sense. The phenomenon is intimate. A thumb and middle finger press on points at either side of his neck. Judgement: not a massage. The cop says nothing. He releases his fingers, adjusts their position, squeezes again. The passenger seat cop asks, “How you doin, Rick?” and slugs Rick again. Rick has air enough this time to whimper.

The car moves languidly in the dark, circles a block. Jimmy and his cop engage in a silent, intense, private struggle. They are coupled, no one bothers them. Jimmy rolls his shoulders, turns his neck, subtly, not to seem resistant, countering the cop’s fingers, which crawl upward, sideward, seeking, sometimes softly caressing. Jimmy now apprehends. The cop seeks pressure points, arterial shut down points, dots he has been shown in some slide, a book, on how to render a man unconscious without leaving a mark. Jimmy wonders how long blood to the brain must be cut off to cause brain damage. He eases a shoulder upward to change whatever configuration the cop has decided upon, to move the dots around, deny the fingers knowledge of his anatomy. Or are there some terrible pain-points, where nerves pass a bone? The cop’s middle finger reaches under a bone by Jimmy’s ear. Jimmy tilts his head, the bone moves, the finger tightens where it did not intend.

The car radio breaks in. The driver speaks cop-static to the dispatcher-static, hangs up the mike, makes a u-turn. They’ve been called in. Jimmy allows himself to shiver as if in fear or cold, which ruins the cop’s finger placements, forces him to start again, allows Jimmy a deep smile far from his face. The officer is incompetant, he can’t remember the lesson he took, it seemed so easy when they showed him in class, and now his first real chance and he’s blown it and he’s run out of time. And they didn’t have time to beat me. Soon I’ll be safe in a holding cell.

The car turns into the Park, pulls across Waller to the front doors of the station house, a modest two story municipal building, neo-Spanish lamps on either side of neo-Spanish fortress doors. The two cops on the right side punch Rick toward the entrance. Jimmy’s cop, in whom Jimmy wishes he could sense disappointment, merely pushes him. A policeman from within throws open the door. Jimmy’s senses are so acute that no time elapses between

Phenomenon: Two lines of police officers facing each other a yard apart, nightsticks in hand, an armed alley from the front door of the station across the large room to an office door in the far corner.


Judgement: a gauntlet.

A football roar goes up as Jimmy and Rick are pushed inside. No instructions are needed or given. There is no Young Jimmy anymore, capable of shock or surprise, there is only a 27-year-old in good physical shape who must make it to the other end of a room conscious and standing.

He runs low, crouched, hands on head. Cops must decide which kid to hit, they cannot do both, they are bunched too close, their arms and nightsticks interfere, they are too excited to aim well. Blows land, mostly on his back and shoulders. He is underwater, he does not breathe until he surfaces, sucking air, in a small office room. He supports himself with both hands on a gunmetal desk. The surface of the desk is smooth, empty.

He hears Rick say, “They’re going to kill us they’re going to kill us.”

He hears himself say, “It’s ok man it’s ok.”

The door to the main room closes behind them. In the opposite wall an open door reveals holding cells at the rear of the building. The cells seem empty. There’s no one in this building, thinks Jimmy, except this kid and me and thirty or forty bloodsick cops. The room is maybe 9 by 12 and contains the desk against which he leans, two chairs, and a metal filing cabinet.

pain: theory & practice

Pain is an opinion held by the self. Fear trumps pain. Alcohol trumps pain. Relief at being alive and going home can trump a machine gun wound. Not to mention the body’s self-produced opiates, endorphines, enkephalins, etc. In Philosophical Investigations, Ludwig Wittgenstein logically states, “It can’t be said of me at all (except perhaps as a joke) that I know I am in pain. What is that supposed to mean, except that I am in pain?” Wittgenstein might have benefited from a police beating. Jimmy knows he is in pain and at this moment he is not in pain. This is known as pain asymbolia and was best expressed by the patient who stated, “I feel the pain but it doesn’t hurt.” Anticipation of further pain trumps pain.

When does pain arrive? Too late! The blow has already landed. Pain does not warn. Pain explains. When Jimmy thinks back on the pain in the booking room at Park Station, he remembers the sight of cops in two lines under fluorescent light. The sight, the fear, not the blows, constitute the remembered pain.

Two policemen enter the interrogation room, the two backseat cops, not the driver or the one who knew Jimmy. They are his and Rick’s personal cops. Rick’s cop closes the door to the cells, Jimmy’s closes the door behind him to the main room. This is bad, thinks Jimmy, and his mind shrinks to what philosopher William James called the “specious present,” the moment that itself does not exist, but inside of which we exist, and only exist, all our lives.

The policemen pull blackjacks from their pockets, rubbercoated cables, slip the leather loops around their wrists. Once again, Jimmy is lucky. O lucky man! Lucky not to have been arrested first and seated behind the cop in the passenger seat of the car, lucky now to watch while Rick’s cop orders Rick to place his hands flat on top of the metal filing cabinet. Rick does so. The cop slams his blackjack bam! bam! down on his hands. Rick screams.

Wittgenstein, ¶286 of Philosophical Investigations, writes, “Isn’t it absurd to say of a body that it has pain? In what sense is it true that my hand does not feel pain, but I feel pain in my hand?” Ludwig is on to something. He continues, “If someone has a pain in his hand, then one does not comfort the hand, but the sufferer.”

Rick is in wrenching, searing pain. Is his scream a scream of pain, or a scream at the thought of the consequences of the blow — smashed knuckles, disabled, broken hands? Wittgenstein, ¶303, says “I can only believe that someone else is in pain, but I know it if I am.” Which is enough to make one give up on philosophy altogether, until he adds, “Just try — in a real case — to doubt someone else’s fear or pain.”

“You.” Jimmy’s cop prods him with the sap. “Hands on the file cabinet.”

Jimmy does not move or speak. Perhaps he has chosen not to, perhaps he cannot. He does not look directly at the cop, but keeps his opponent’s position and movements clear in the corner of his eye. The cop shoves him toward the file cabinet. Jimmy braces himself with a foot, bows his head, places his hands together over the top rear of his skull, elbows aimed at the floor, protecting his face; instinct and years-ago training in nonviolent civil rights resistance prevail.

The cop swings the blackjack at Jimmy’s back. The beating has begun. Jimmy’s world shrinks to himself, the officer, the furniture, the floor. He cannot help Rick in any way. He hears the blows that land on Rick, feels those that land on him. He knows that blood vessels inside him are breaking but the skin is not, that blood is leaking and pooling beneath. He feels the shockwave of each slam penetrate his inner organs. Does this mean he has numbed-out, is in shock? No. He feels everything, more than everything. He feels outside his body as well. Rick’s pleas and screams are as real as the blows of the blackjack below his ribcage, aimed at his kidneys, his liver. Rick’s moans remind him of the real world, hold Jimmy to the physical world of the chair, desk, filing cabinet, sap, cop, breath.

More than pain, he feels concern for the survival of Jimmy O’Shea. The body of Jimmy O’Shea must not be allowed to buckle, fall to the floor, where they can stomp on his head. His skull, which contains the history of Jimmy’s 27 years to Heaven, must not be allowed to hit the edge of anything, desk, chair, filing cabinet. The only words in his head in this specious present are “They don’t plan to kill me, but there may be an accident.”

The cops repeat a demand to each prisoner: “Say you’re a piece of shit.” Jimmy hears Rick reply in a keen, “I’m a piece of shit I’m a piece of shit.” Jimmy cannot speak, either to comfort Rick or plead for himself. He knows he would soon be unable to distinguish among utterances, that a word of solace could lead to begging for mercy, to saying, “I’m a piece of shit,” which will not stop them from hitting him, will probably incite them more. He vows silence. Once a word is spoken, for whatever reason, silence is ended, more words, undesired, are made possible; the throat is broken open and made to cry, perhaps uncontrollably.

As the first blow landed, Jimmy’s self spread out like a platoon under fire, still a platoon, still acting together, but lessening the odds of being slaughtered. The distributed parts of his self have their tasks: keep track of the cops, watch their feet, hands, knees, locate the furniture in space, plan only the instant-ahead, where the next blow is coming from.

The cop designated to injure Jimmy is a naive realist. He believes in pain like Catholics believe in Mary. She lived, she was human, she was real. Not part-god, part-woman, part spiritus. He now tries to locate Jimmy’s pain in his balls. He seizes Jimmy by his shoulders from the front, rams his right knee upward toward the piece of shit’s groin. This’ll make him scream. Jimmy, who can only see downward, a truncated perspective of elbows, stomach, groin, legs, boots, executes a subtle dance. Without moving his feet he does The Twist, rotating his thighs inches back and forth, a gyring motion that puts a thigh where a half-second before, his groin was. His thighs, right or left, depending, take the blows, which would knock him down if the cop were not gripping Jimmy’s shoulders to brace himself, holding Jimmy’s body in place.

Jimmy dangles his body from his mind, puppeteers it, tries to help it survive. Twist the string, the right thigh turns to block the upthrusting knee, big as a horse, deflect it from his balls. THUMP. The left thigh draws to the right. THUMP. The cop’s knee slams, slides. Jimmy feels the knee deep in the muscles of his leg. Blood pools beneath the skin. Again he and his cop form an intimate non-cooperating organism.

Jimmy sees the puppet strings snap, sees himself on the floor, his brains dripping from his ears. Is he on the floor? May be. He cannot prove he has not been on the floor, pulled himself up, resumed standing. He cannot prove anything except that he is still alive.

A voice at a door, behind it other voices. The cops stop where they are. A last sucker punch at Jimmy’s kidneys from behind. They leave. The cop at the door pushes them into the cells at the rear, leaves them alone, does not lock the cells. Where would they go? Jimmy sits on a metal shelf-bench. The platoon of his self reunites in darkness, assesses the damage. The pain arrives, too late! from everywhere. He lets himself think forward out of the present, out of the room he is in. Rick’s moans from the next cell annoy him, add to his pain. Still he does not speak, the sound of his own breath fills the cell.

They stopped because there are more. Jimmy goes through it again by proxy, the screams, moans, begging, crashes, cries, thuds from the next room. Two more kids are tossed in with them, then two more. He tries to comfort them. He tells them the worst is over, that they have the right to a phone call, that the night must end. He tries to do this without moving.

A black cop (he notices this because all the police he has seen so far have been white) appears at the bars, says “James O’Shea.” Jimmy tries to stand, is crushed by fear he is being called out for another round. “What?” he asks. There has been no time.

“Come with me,” says the cop. Something in his voice lets Jimmy approach. “I’m just taking you to be booked.” He knows what Jimmy thought. Jimmy nods in appreciation. They walk through the empty interrogation room to the main room. No gauntlet. Ten or fifteen cops mill around, laugh. The rest are on the street. Beat em where you catch em. The cop leads him to a window in a wall near the front door, behind which a uniformed policeman sits like a bank teller. Jimmy holds himself up by the lip of the windowledge, wipes his face. Blood comes off on his hand. Must’ve got through to my face. The cop behind the window asks name and address type questions. The cop who brought him out has to prompt him to respond.

The entrance door clanks. The cop guarding the door says in a peculiar tone of shocked authority, “You can’t come in here, lady!”

The room stills. Affront has been given.

The intruder speaks to the guard, to the entire room..

Phenomenon: She says, “Officer!”

Judgement: Cathy, Cathy, Cathy Cohen.

“We have reason to believe you are holding Jimmy O’Shea!”

Jimmy angles his head. She is five yards away. Will she not see him? Are there police in the way? Can she see into the room? He must not speak. She must see him.

“Get out, lady. Now. Out.” Jimmy sees her eyes. She sees. The guard moves in front of her.

She points. She is the legal system itself. “There he is, officer. We see he’s been injured. We demand his rights be protected under the law.” The guard pushes her now, out toward the gravel and the dark. “We are going to get a lawyer.” The guard pulls the entrance door shut against her. The insult of it to San Francisco’s law enforcement personnel. A witness against them. In their own lair!

The cop by Jimmy leans into his ear, says, “You got some heavy woman there.”

“I do,” says Jimmy. “I sure do.”

As he leads Jimmy back to the cells, the cop says, “They won’t mess with you anymore tonight.”

After midnight, the prisoners are moved downtown in a police bus. Only then, in the toilet of the holding tank, does Jimmy discover that sometime during it all, he shit in his pants. He removes his shit-squishy briefs, stuffs them between the toilet and the wall.