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Occupational Hazards

Ed.’s Note: A name has been changed in this story, in order to protect the “innocent.”

We had been in the holding cell at the 9th Precinct for maybe an hour or so when this lanky, punk-rock-circa-1983-looking dude (pale skin, gelled spiky jet black hair, metal-studded black leather jacket, metal-studded belt, black denim jeans, leather shitkicker boots) was escorted into the waiting area just outside the bars, a few feet away from my cellmates and me.

I was locked up with two fellow riders, Ben and Chris, who had been popped at the same time that I had. (This was the first time either of them had been arrested, and they were feeling righteously pissed off, a reaction that I wished on the one hand to encourage—there is nothing more eye-opening and radicalizing than being unjustly arrested—but on the other hand wanted to quell, out of a selfish, though not-unreasonable fear that Ben’s yelling at the cops could very well slow down the proceedings and make our stay both longer and less pleasant) When the ’83 punk rocker dude loped in, we all had the same reaction: What’s he here for? Drunken bar fight? Is he violent? Was he smokin’ pot? Dealing? We watch him as his AO—Arresting Officer (Once arrested, one quickly adopts cop vernacular as primary language)—puts him through the bizarre ritual-accounting-for of worldly possessions: One cell phone. One Bic pen. One notebook. Wallet containing $53.73. One pack cigarettes. Sign here. And here. And here. And initial here. Thank you. That was followed by the yet more bizarre ritual-self-protection exercise: “Please remove shoelaces and belt.” “Do I seem like a suicide risk to you officer?” “Just take them off please.”

The newcomer completes these steps without incident, is seemingly in full control of his faculties, and appears to be on somewhat cordial terms with his AO. Probably a minor drug bust, I figure. He turns towards the cell, his face impassive, perhaps smiling slightly, and strolls calmly in as an officer (excuse me, PO, Police Officer), opens the sliding cage door. I think it is Ben, ever-pacing and jittery Ben, who engages him first.

“Whatcha in for?” Ben asks, with the requisite irony.

And it’s like turning on a faucet. The guy, this kind of tough-looking big dude, sits down, crosses his legs, puts his hands on the knee of his top leg, and recounts his odd and epic tale of woe:

“Well, it’s kinda weird, really. I mean, really strange, I was in the Virgin Megastore, talking to these girls, right? And you know, we’re kinda gettin’ flirty right? They’re really flirty girls, and it’s all fun and everything’s cool. And it’s gettin’, you know, kinda dirty right? They’re like asking me ‘how big is your dick,’ and ‘how long can you last in bed,’ this kind of stuff. Totally nasty right? And so I’m kinda psyched, cuz this one girl she’s pretty cute, you know? And so I’m kinda getting’ up close to them. [Note: by now I am: a) totally amazed that this guy is revealing all of this information to us; and b) becoming increasingly creeped out by him.] And you know, she kinda touches my leg a little bit, you know, brushes her hand against my leg, right? And so I touch her on, like, not even her ass really, like the side of her ass, like her thigh, right? So, anyway, I get one girl’s number—not the one who, you know, not the one who touched my leg, but her friend—I get her number and then I’m like not even in the same part of the store anymore, and these cops, these undercovers, come up to me, along with the manager, and they ask to talk to me, and I’m like sure. So they take me into this back hallway area, and they arrest me, for sexual assault.”

“Sexual assault?

“Yeah, can you believe it? The little cunt, like, she called the cops on me after she walked away. She’s pressing charges and shit. Can you believe that shit? I already filed a complaint of my own, you know. I mean she touched me first right?”

“You mean you accused her of sexual assault?”

“Yeah. I mean, I dunno, I’m thinkin’ maybe that’ll scare her or something, wake her up and bring her to her senses. I’m hoping she’ll just drop the charges and I’ll be able to go home. But my, you know, the guy who arrested me…”

“That’s your AO.”

“Yeah, he says that’s probably not going to happen. I mean, I’m probably going to get booked and all that shit….”

You get the picture, I suppose, or the gist of it. At least you think you do. I thought I did too, and the picture is this: Party boy here, thinking he’s Mr. Smooth, spies some girls in the Virgin Megastore (which somehow makes this whole thing feel even sleazier, for reasons I can’t exactly put my finger on). Anyway, this guy, this lurky guy, who exudes confidence and calm, tinged with a smarmy-vulture like quality, a greasy, reptilian quality that makes him both amusing and repulsive and also, strangely, attractive, sidles up alongside some nice young (and I’m imagining very young) girl and cops a feel.

And here he is telling us all about it, almost pridefully, as though we were all hanging out in a bar together swapping sexual conquest stories, when in reality—ha ha ha—he’s in JAIL! And this circumstance is actually quite gratifying and elicits in me feelings of genuine wellbeing, because if he is half the creep I suspect he is (and such suspicions will be amply confirmed later on), then hooray! The bad guy is busted, the world is just, the cops are doing their job, life has meaning, and so on and so forth. Of course, all of this sets up a near-migraine-inducing cognitive dissonance, because I'M IN JAIL TOO! For…riding my bike, in the bike lane, obeying traffic laws, in other words, for no fucking reason whatsoever, in moral, or even legal, terms.

(Much of the next 24 hours of my life will be consumed by similarly conflicting waves of feeling, leading me from self-pitying-Jesus-on-the-cross moments to rapturous moments where I will feel kinship and love for all the men trapped in the tombs with me, all the others forlorn and forgotten, stripped of identity and dignity, shitting in a crowded room, sleeping and snoring on cold concrete floors, sneaking tokes of tobacco, trading stories of stupid, petty, victimless crimes. I do not want to be here. This is not some sociological fact-finding mission, not some self-induced time out from my hectic life, not some kind of voluntary political self-education. I was cuffed and jailed like everyone else, and by and large it sucks. But…it does have its moments).

But Gary’s story isn’t finished. The best is yet to come. Now, I could just direct you to his website,, and leave it at that. (Of course, you’ll recall that names have been changed to protect the “innocent” here, so “Thad” in this case is just a pseudonym for a pseudonym. Still, the actual website does exist—you’ll just have to take my word for it. It all checked out. All the “advice” he gives there on-line, his whole pitch, he fed to us verbatim while we were all inside together.) The sheer skeeziness of the site serves as an adequate punch line all on it own, but that wouldn’t be the whole story, would it?

Anyway, Gary didn’t keep us in the dark for long. I actually think that not being able to fully “explain” the situation was eating him up inside. Like, we weren’t able to see that he was really this super-cool stud, and this getting arrested thing was, well, just an occupational hazard, not an indication of his aptitude with the ladies. Somehow, in his mind, his status as a professional “dating guru” cast the whole episode, and him, in a much more favorable light. Yes, that’s correct, he seemed to feel that his being arrested for sexual assault was more easily, and sympathetically understood in light of the fact that he was a pro.

“I mean, these girls weren’t even, like, all that hot, right? I mean, I was just like playing around with them, you know? I mean, I get laid every night of the week by the hottest chicks you’ve ever seen, no problem, right? That little cunt was probably just pissed cause I took her friends number and not hers, but I wasn’t even getting her number to use, right? I was just demonstrating techniques for my students”

“Excuse me? There were students?”

“Yeah man, this was, like the second night of a three-night seminar. I had a full class with me.”

“They were watching?

“Yeah, they were, like, maybe 100 feet way, with my intern…”

“You have an intern?”

“Yeah, he’s a former student actually. He’s gotten pretty good, good enough to teach the seminar I hope. I mean, he’s seen me teach it, like, a dozen times, so he should be ok”

“The class continued?”

“Definitely. I mean, those guys pay a lot of dough to get this info, you know? And he can do it, I mean, he’s like, getting tons of pussy right now. He should be fine. The students will get their money’s worth…Actually, I’ll probably need to refund their money, right? Or offer them another seminar for free or something? I mean, I don’t want them talking about this really, that could be bad. Man, I really don’t want this to get around, you know? I mean, there’s like some guys, some competitors of mine, who would really use this against me if they find out. Drag my name down. I could get screwed.”

I am doing everything in my power at this point not to laugh out loud. Ben and Chris have long since stopped trying, and are nearly pissing themselves. Gary takes it all in stride, calmly, realizing on some level that there is irony here, and that its funny, but he is gloriously unembarrassed by it. Seemingly entirely without self-consciousness, much less remorse.

Once the laughter subsides, however, a curious thing starts to happen. Ben, Chris, and our other cellmates, begin to ask Gary questions about his “techniques.” His answers are clear, and sharp, and somewhat…ruthless. This pleases the boys, and, to be honest, I am not immune to the appeal of his rhetoric. The clarity of his vision is thrilling in the way that Machiavelli is thrilling, or Dick Cheney. Kind of crazy, but, you know…focused. Part of me is indeed just a little envious. I do not doubt that Gary gets laid all the time, and he seems to be entirely unperturbed by the postcoital emotional complications that lesser men such as myself might experience. Part of me at least thinks that, well, that would be pretty cool. But then, watching him seek and then soak up the attention lavished upon him by my cellmates, it becomes pretty clear that really this is what Gary is seeking: status, respect, and, above all, the approval and acceptance of other men. Here in the 9th Precinct, he has found that, and in return for it, he will regale us with bawdy barroom tales of lust and conquest, far into the wee hours of the morning, at which I and the rest of the boys will laugh and wonder and recoil, sometimes all at once. Throughout it all, though, as I watch Gary perform his way into everyone’s good graces, I am nagged by one persistent thought: “Poor guy. I bet his dad was a real piece of work.”


Mark Read


The Brooklyn Rail

APR 2007

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