Monday, July 10, 2006

I am a criminal

I learned yesterday that it is a crime to sit on the sidewalk in Santa Monica. It's a misdemeanor, on a par with petty theft, prostitution, and vandalism. So is brushing your teeth in a public restroom.

When the policeman I was talking to told me that (off camera of course) I decided to put it to the test: I sat on the sidewalk right in front of him, looked up at him and asked, "You mean I'm committing a crime right now?" "That's right," he said. "So why aren't you arresting me?" I asked. His answer was that the police have a certain amount of discretion deciding which cases to pursue. Translation: I, with my clean shave and clean clothes and bag full of expensive video equipment, didn't look like a homeless person.

Ironically, later in the day I met a homeless person who actually had more electronic gadgetry than I do. He's a veteran in his seventies who gets about $900 a month in Social Security, which is not nearly enough to afford a place in Santa Monica (rents here start at about twice that) but if you're on the street with no bills to pay it's quite a lot of money. He showed me his stash: a thick wad of $100 bills (which he said he had a hard time spending because none of the business establishments that will actually let him in will accept hundreds), a laptop computer, a top-of-the-line PDA (which he couldn't actually use because he had forgotten the password).

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