Monday, January 2, 2017

I was watching a police show the other night

about an officer that has solved a number of murder cases.

I don’t watch a whole lot of police shows but this one was on in the background and I happened to notice something. The cop was talking about his patrolman days and how he had numerous contacts with what he referred to as ‘the invisible people’. It caught my attention for some reason and I saw that the ‘invisible person’ the cop was referring to reminded me of someone. It reminded me of myself years ago.

He appeared to be in his early thirties and fairly clean looking. While I know TV seldom portrays people the way they really are, I do remember that even though I lived for years without running water or electricity I always managed to keep myself fairly clean and presentable. While it did take work, it made life a lot nicer.

I did live in a tipi for fourteen months and had little contact with the law enforcement community except for one visit that got paid me over a pair of young women that had been reported missing. I knew where they were and why they were missing. One of them was being stalked by a local guy.

I told the officer I knew they were both OK and he said he had to physically see them to confirm that they were in fact OK. I took the officer’s card and wrote his work schedule for the next couple of days on the back of it. An hour later I ‘just happened to find’ the women in question and told them what was going on. This just may have had something to do with the fact that they were camped 800 yards away and were semi-regular visitors. Shortly after that the officer and the two met and the officer was able to close out his report and the girls were able to stay off the grid so to speak. It was a win/win.

A years or so later I was living in Alaska, sort of in town but off in the lines and shadows of it. At first I’d jungle up in an old WW2 bunker. Later I lived in campers or camper/trailers. I moved as often as I had to in order to stay out of the limelight.

At that point there were actually two Piccolos. One that was highly visible and seen almost daily downtown in the bars, restaurants, stores. Post office, etc. The other Piccolo was an invisible type of home life as I would go home to wherever I was hanging my hat (or parking my trailer) at the time. 

Much to the credit and observance of the local police department they actually did know where I was parked or hidden away and much to their credit they turned a blind eye. They seemed to respect my invisibility to the rest of the town and didn’t try and chase me all over hell for the most part. If someone complained they would see me downtown and have a quiet word with me and tell me to move. Occasionally they would suggest a place. They were kind to me and a lot of other invisibles and were generally quite helpful.

In return I was helpful to them to a certain extent.

I was not a regular informant or a stoolie that told them everything I knew. I freely told a couple of officers that outright. They actually understood that and respected it. For example, if it involved drugs, whores, gambling or something I regarded as victimless then I knew nothing. In order for me to give anything away there had to be a real victim. What is worth mentioning here is I seldom if ever had anything to do with these vices although I was considered somewhat of a hard drinker. I suppose by stateside standards I was. By local standards I was a lightweight.

If there was a crime that was committed in the interest of justice I would simply tell the officer that the crime had been committed in the interest of justice.

An example of this would be the time someone had the holy daylights beat out of him and was found face down in an alley somewhere. While I was not considered a suspect by any means, one of the officers I was friendly with figured I might know something. He saw me headed back to where my trailer was parked and offered me a ride which I gratefully accepted.

When he asked me about the incident I said (truthfully) that I didn’t know who did it but told him justice had been served. It raised his eyebrows and I explained that the victim had been robbing some of us ‘invisibles’ and that he had gotten his comeuppance. He nodded.

Then he asked me if I could find out and I told him that I most certainly would not because it was a case of fair and honest street justice and justice had been served.

“Yeah,” he said, thoughtfully. “I see your point. You ‘resident non-locals’ are almost forced to keep things like that among yourselves.”

Anyone with a street cop background doesn’t have to have it explained. Invisible people tend to keep things to themselves because of their place in the social structure. They generally have very little money and therefore carry no clout with the powers that be. The only residence that many of us had was simply General Delivery at the local post office…if that.

While I did own a vehicle, a rusty old falling apart pickup, the title listed my address as ‘Stay Free Mini Pad, General Delivery’. The Stay Free Mini Pad was the nickname of my camper/trailer because I paid no rent and the trailer was so damned small.

Most policemen will protest that the homeless and invisible community have the same rights as anyone else and have a right to report crimes against them. They are right. However, there is a perception among the invisible people that they don’t count as their existence in many cases is illegal. It is a perception and a perception like that is not easily overcome.  

The truth of the matter is the invisible people were really vulnerable. We had no real clout, no fixed address and not much of anything, really. We lived in the shadows and although the laws were pretty much unenforceable the lifestyle was, in fact, illegal. We were by definition vagrants. I was tolerated and even somewhat respected because I always seemed to have some sort of employment. I paid my own way and never used the system for anything. Still, it was pretty close to the edge from a legal standpoint. I had no fixed address. I was technically a vagrant.

Incidentally while I was living there two new cops started raising hell with the invisibles. Once after Officer Gordie Bartel was killed in the line of duty by a nutcase there was somewhat of a crackdown that was short-lived. Two things nipped it early on. One thing was the quiet, unseen outpouring of sympathy from the invisibles along with the community. The other is that a couple officers in the department quietly spoke out and quashed it.

I was living in a converted unused surplus dumpster when Officer Gordie got killed. He was one hell of a good cop and had a wonderful rapport with the invisible people.

The other time the invisibles had any real problems was when some newish cop thought it would be a good idea to enforce vagrancy laws strictly. That lasted about two days until the rest of the force had a quiet word with him in the locker room.

Apparently he thought that busting vagrants was a way to get ahead. Some of the city fathers were always after the police to get after the vagrants and the police OK’d them to death but ignored the requests. Most likely because the other city fathers knew that the invisibles did in fact serve a purpose. Many of these invisibles manned the fish canneries in season. They did the jobs the locals didn’t want to.

Actually as far as things went I was pretty close to the top of pile as ‘resident non-locals’ went. I always seemed to have something a constructive to do. It is interesting to note that an officer that eventually became Chief once told me that I was ‘a left-handed asset to the community’.

Now it should be carefully noted that there were times I actually did help out the law enforcement community. If there was an outright victim I would quietly let them know what was going on. If the victim was a member of the invisible community I aggressively let them know what was going on.
 I suppose if the mayor’s house had been burglarized I’d pass on anything I heard but would really make little or no effort to get to the bottom of things. However, if a member of the invisible community became victimized I’d work overtime to get to the bottom of things and make damned sure the police knew. They as often as not got advice on how to handle it to see to it that they could secure a solid conviction.

Incidentally if anyone had done anything wrong to the guy that ran the city dump I would have worked triple overtime to get to the bottom of THAT one. He was by far the most useful person in town.

You have to remember that the invisible community did not want to be brought into the light. Some of these people were alcoholic, addicts or (like myself) just plain dropouts. They would tolerate just about any injustice and either accept it or extract their own revenge, depending on their nature. The one thing they wanted to avoid at all costs was public exposure. It was a world the police could not really crack and really didn’t bother to as these people for the most part caused no real trouble. If there was any trouble with them it was generally because they had been victimized.

Incidentally I was pretty much left alone by those forces that victimized the invisible people for a number of reasons. First, although it was generally conceded I was not a snitch as such, it was common knowledge I had a pretty good rapport with a number of police officers. Most people were aware that I would report any crime against me even if it was informally. I should clarify this. The Department as such didn’t do me any good at all. My rapport was with a number of officers as individuals.

Second, most of the bar owners liked me. I had worked for most of them and they considered me a friend and a business asset.

Third, a number of the drug dealers and gamblers knew I would not rat them out. They also knew that if someone was looking for a poker game I’d send them their way. The same held true for cocaine and weed. If anyone I trusted was looking I’d send them their way discreetly. That being said, I refused to tell anyone where they could find heroin. I didn’t know and made it clear I didn’t want to know. I have always considered heroin to be some bad juju and wanted to have nothing whatsoever to do with it.

While I certainly was not bullet proof I was protected to a certain extent.

I later changed lifestyles a bit and eventually bought and moved into a sailboat. Now living on board a sailboat in the small boat harbor was illegal. The city fathers used to raise hell about it all the time.

You have to remember that the unwritten rule of the small boat harbor was that it was off limits to the police department unless they got the OK from the harbormaster. The harbor officers were all sworn policemen.

When I tied my boat up in Dog Bay the harbormaster sent one of the officers to personally look me up for a little sit down. The officer he sent was surprisingly enough, a small statured woman. She sat me down and carefully went over the laws, rules and regulations and made it a point to carefully explain to me that liveaboards were strictly prohibited.

Now I had known the harbormaster and the female officer for years. We all got along well. There was a liveaboard community in Dog Bay basin and had been one since the beginning of time. I noticed that I was given a berth there but off to one side where I had a pretty good field of view.

I also noticed that she insisted on helping me move my boat. As she was helping me she commented that my boat sure looked like it needed a lot of work and she knew I was the man for the job. She said guys like me worked hard and an occasionally needed nap which she assured me was legal. I got the drift.

She also told me that the harbor police didn’t have enough people to routinely patrol the whole bay and suggested that if I saw anything out of the ordinary that the harbor patrol monitored VHF channel 68 24/7. She also said that there had been a discussion between the harbormaster and the KPD and I had come highly recommended.

In short I was another invisible set of eyes to them. None of the people on that dock were liveaboards. We were simple boat owners that just ‘happened to work on our boats at odd hours’.

For the next year that I stayed on board ‘working on my boat’ I had a very interesting rapport with the harbor patrol. I can recall three times I called them to ‘ask them a question’. Twice I recall the responding officer ‘just happened’ to catch someone either stealing or vandalizing a boat when they came over to answer my question personally. (Remember, there was a real victim involved. This wasn’t just some sort of arbitrary bullshit.)

All this time I was living in the lines and shadows of the system and was to some extent some sort of a non-entity. I was a part of an invisible group.

It was a wonderful win/win situation based simply on the discretion of the law enforcement community. I got a place to stay and they got a free extra set of eyes.

To find out why the blog is pink just cut and paste this: NO ANIMALS WERE HARMED IN THE WRITING OF TODAY'S ESSAY

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