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Flatbush Flashback

The Writing's on the Wall

I've gotten a lot of Facebook feedback since Friday's post about two cops accosting me in Greenwich Village because they thought I was writing graffiti on the wall of a building when, in fact, I was jotting down on a small piece of paper some notes for the book I’m working on.

Some of the feedback was deadly serious, with Skip Slavik, of Ohio, commenting at length about "the whole stop-and-frisk thing" ongoing in New York City, and the culture wars of the late 60s and early 70s, when cops all over America would routinely stop and frisk anybody who looked like a hippie. Other comments were sarcastic, with Gloria Malone, of the Bronx, noting, "Now Bloomberg is going to launch a new campaign against ball point pens."

I’d originally intended the post as a humorous anecdote about some of the absurd things that happen on the streets of New York. But it’s since occurred to me that this incident wasn’t quite as amusing as I first thought. The cop who was preparing to arrest me before he realized what I was doing said, “Oh, you’re a writer,” as he was backing away. How could he have known I was a writer, and not writing down a phone number, unless he was standing there long enough to read my notes? And that gave me the creeps—the idea that a cop had snuck up behind me, and whatever decision he’d made to frisk me or not frisk me, arrest me or not arrest me, was based, in part, on what I’d written. The cop was spying on me, and that’s no joke. It’s what happens in a police state.

And then, when I was out Saturday afternoon, and I stopped to jot down a few more notes, something I’ve been doing unselfconsciously for decades, I felt nervous about it, and took a careful look around to make sure there were no lurking cops. It broke my train of thought.

I leave you then with Exhibit A, the actual notes I was writing when the cops snuck up behind me. If you can’t read my scrawl, it says: “Banks: I knew from the moment I saw him” then a delete symbol followed by “walk in the door.” I then added, “2 cops think I’m writing on the wall. 40 years ago they would have arrested me.”

Good thing I don’t write with a can of spray paint.

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