Busytown by Jolisa Gracewood

War and order...

So you've all heard about the fellow who was forcibly ejected from a mall in upstate New York for the unspeakable crime of wearing a T-shirt with a peace slogan on it. When mall security asked him to take it off or leave, he refused and was promptly arrested for trespassing. Turns out he's headed to New Zealand in a couple of weeks -- he's retiring from his job as a lawyer, and this is the big trip he's been looking forward to all these years. He'll have earned a rest, after all the calls from the international media in the last couple of days. Give the man a kind reception, won't you? (For anyone who missed the story, check out the original coverage; you can also read the mall's version, and the security guard -- who probably came off worst of all -- gets his two cents in, too).

The whole kerfuffle seems to be one of those brilliant, off-the-cuff political demonstrations that just happen sometimes -- Rosa Parks in the food court, sort of thing. Come to think of it, though, Mrs Parks' refusal to move to the back of the bus was part of a well-planned strategy, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if this event had been similarly thought through in advance. Regardless, it's a huge embarrassment for the mall and by extension (because shopping is the national sport here, as in many places now) for the United States. It's also a signal reminder that malls are emphatically not the new commons or market square, where citizens may gather and chat and flirt and squeeze the produce and debate the issues of the day.

And it's just another version of what's been happening a lot here over the last year and a half: over-zealous security guards implementing new procedures to the letter and beyond, regardless of common sense. Children separated from parents and searched; a woman forced to drink bottles of her own breastmilk (expressed earlier, for handy use while in flight) to prove that it wasn't some dodgy substance. Jeez ... show me a woman traveling alone with a nursing infant and I'll show you someone who's too damned busy or tired -- or both -- to hijack a plane.

Speaking of bodily fluids, poor old Busytot has been barfing on and off all the livelong day. He gets a worried look on his face, hiccups once or twice, says "Uh-oh...booger..." and then boogers copiously all over the place. Looking forward to a brief respite, I left him with his dad for an hour while I went out to get my hair cut. It was my first haircut in about four months, so I cunningly wore my shiny purple docs, a groovy skirt and one of my least mumsy tops, just to make sure I got the asymmetrical spiky shag I was after (hey, don't be rude, it's a hairstyle), instead of some sensible wash-n-go soccer mom 'do. Mission more than accomplished (big ups to Hoshi Coupe on 108th and Broadway. I love that place, and it looks like I'm not the only one). I sauntered home feeling all sexy and fabulous. Busytot leapt into my arms for a rapturous reunion, hiccupped once, and then barfed welcomingly right into my cleavage. It was like a scene from one of those fraternity movies...or from Debra's latest blog :-)

So, where was I... fraternities... ah yes, then there was this week's Supreme Court ruling on California's "three strikes you're out" law, a statute which sends you to jail for the proverbial twenty-five to life if you're convicted of a third offence. In some states the third offense has to be a felony (big stuff: murder, rape, armed robbery etc) but in others, like California, it can be as simple as shoplifting. Or, God help us, perhaps even "trespassing" in a mall with your peace shirt on? (Dogs on the other hand, at least in the state of New York, get one free bite each, as I discovered a few summers ago when a passing Rottweiler who turned out to have a couple of "priors" made off with a bit of my calf). California toughened up in response to the Polly Klaas case (a little girl kidnapped from her house and murdered in 1994) because the perpetrator of that case had such a long and ominous record that he would have been safely locked away had a "three strikes" law been in place. But in the opinion of many, they tightened the screws just a little too far.

Anyway, the Court ruled -- by a narrow margin -- that the state's independent rights to set its own scale of penalties for crimes outweighed the rights of suspects not to be locked up for 50 years for, say, swiping a hundred dollars worth of stuff. Legal niceties aside (you can find more about the judgement here), what caught my eye were the squalid, tragic details of one of the crimes at the heart of the case. Leandro Andrade, military veteran, heroin addict, two time petty burglar (twenty years ago), and all round sad case by the sound of it, stole some children's videos from a K-Mart, stuffing them down his pants in full view of a security camera. He did it for his nieces for Christmas, and he did it twice in the space of a week. Because it was his third conviction, and because the shoplifting counted as two separate offences, he wasn't just nicked, he was screwed. Twice twenty-five is fifty years; sure, the man's a thief by any definition, but he'll die in jail for that copy of Cinderella. It's enough to make you want to retire to New Zealand.


Things may be quiet here for a week and a bit. I'm churning out a dissertation chapter this week, and then heading to parts south next weekend to investigate life below the Mason-Dixon line. Our life, possibly -- thanks to an intriguing job offer landed by the scientist in the family. We may be leaving New York within the year! Who knows, maybe Busytot will swap his New York attitude, burgeoning New Zealand accent, and addiction to trains and bagels, for a tendency to say "y'all," a preference for sweet iced tea over OJ, and a tricycle of his very own. But what will happen to Noo Yawk muthah? Look forward next time to a report on my adventures down under.