Peter Shelton

Part Two: The Squirrel

Posted in Personal History, Watch columns by pshelton on November 24, 2011

Later, after the adrenaline drained and the ranger left, we started referring to him as The Squirrel. Not for Rocky of “Rocky and Bullwinkle.” No, this guy was the cartoon hero’s exact opposite: he had a pinched, officious manner; he moved and talked in jerks, quick and timid, without ever looking anyone in the eye.

“Wanna go get whatever it was you put in the rocks?” he had said, by way of introduction.

We played dumb. Dumb and incredulous, because there was no way he could have seen me carry our tiny wad of hash to the base of the cliff.

“Well, if you won’t, I will,” said The Squirrel. And he started forward, righting himself, like a drunk, as the sand gave way beneath his boots.

Ha, I thought to myself, he’s headed the wrong direction. No chance in Carl Sagan’s billions he’ll find it. Hell, even I might not be able to find Otto’s pipe, so complicated was the rock jumble back there.

But then The Squirrel stopped and looked up to the top of the cliff, and adjusted his course. He stopped again. Looked up. And there a hundred feet above us was another ranger holding a pair of field glasses.

We were screwed. Or rather, I was screwed, since I was the one who had been observed hiding the stash. The spy on the cliff directed The Squirrel right to it. It turned out they’d worked this ploy on a slew of unwary beachgoers that day. Busted at the beach. The whole thing was planned, rigged, like a speed trap, by The Squirrel and his cliff-top accomplice.

We were angry but not, in the end, surprised. Law enforcement of various stripes, from city police to Alameda County Sheriffs to National Guard troops, had done a brilliant job of radicalizing the population over the previous couple of years. There was People’s Park, during which 800 city and county police taped over their name badges and waded into a crowd of protesters with batons and shotguns. The cops insisted they were firing only birdshot at the “rioters,” until surgeons pulled “00” buckshot out of the dead body of a student who had been watching from a rooftop. A local carpenter, another bystander, was blinded, and 127 others were treated at area hospitals for head trauma, shotgun wounds (many shot in the back), and other serious injuries.

That viral video of a campus cop calmly applying pepper spray to the faces of students sitting together at UC Davis last week, during an Occupy demonstration for economic justice, was a horrible thing to watch. Chilling for a generation of young people that has not perhaps seen cops as a force to be feared. A force to be wielded by the powers that be, in defense of the status quo. Ditto Oakland. And Zuccotti Park. Hello, Syria.

We were there when the nation found out about President Nixon’s secret expansion of the war into Cambodia in the spring of 1970. We joined hundreds of thousands of people in a river of bobbing heads – hopeful by definition – marching in San Francisco. Four million students, including Otto and Debbie and me, at 450 colleges and high schools across the country, went on strike. Governor Reagan ordered Berkeley occupied by the National Guard. “No more appeasement,” said the Great Communicator. A couple of weeks later Ohio National Guard shot and killed four students at Kent State University.

My own crystalizing moment came when a bunch of Berkeley city cops herded a small group of peaceful demonstrators into a residential intersection and then blocked the escape routes, using eight police cars, two per street. The cops circled us, drew their batons and tightened the noose. One guy who tried to escape was thrown over a five-foot high cinder block wall.

I figured the only way to keep from being clubbed was to run right at the gap between two of them and try to hurdle their raised sticks. I leaped, but one of them got me – like swinging at a high fastball – across the shins. My legs went completely numb. I had to drag myself off the street.

Because Point Reyes was a national seashore, my drug trial was to be heard by a federal magistrate at the Alameda Naval Air Station. Otto and Debbie came with me; they felt bad that I was taking the rap.

The courtroom filled up with the 20 other people who had been busted on the beach that day. There was the magistrate. And there, at his table off to the side, was The Squirrel in his Park Service woolens. One by one the judge read the name and the charge, possession of marijuana, pronounced a uniform sentence of “$50, to be paid on the way out,” scribbled his signature, and picked up the next folder.

Except, that is, when he got to mine. (We were called in alphabetical order.) “You’re recommending a fine of $150 in this case,” the magistrate queried The Squirrel. “Why is that?”

“May I approach the bench, uh, Sir, Your Honor?” And then taking up my folder, “Uh, yes, the, uh, perpetrator, in this instance, was in possession of, uh, ha-sheesh, which we believe to be a more dangerous drug. Your Honor.”

The Squirrel. Our disdain knew no bounds. And apparently the magistrate felt a similar impatience. “That’ll be $50, to be paid on the way out. Next.”

One Response

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  1. Mary Ann Dismant said, on November 27, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    Did someone just kick me in the gut? I’m glad, Peter, you are preserving these memories. They are still unfortunately vivid. This is not fiction, kids.

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