(Gabriele’s journal – December 3, 1990)
(Nick’s narrative – January 27, 2022)
See also podcast Episode 11 (out 6/29/23)
At the time, I thought my arrest was merely the result of an impulsive act on my part. Or to quote Frick, “You dumbass.” But more than two years later, after my encounter with White Boy at the corner, I finally understood how Frick and Frack homed in on me early on, preparing to use me as their patsy later.
During the first week or so that we were living on the Hill, various uniformed police officers “introduced” themselves to me. They were likely as confused as I was about why their superiors had not ordered the tipi removed. Instead, they were given orders to find out who I was. Sometimes the introduction was simple and to the point.
“Show me your ID?”
“I don’t have it on me.”
“Where is it?”
“In the tipi.”
“Go get it.”
“Why, did I do something illegal?”
I always carried my wallet and ID with me, but I never surrendered it. I knew, like everyone else on the Hill knew, that the police couldn’t demand it, or frisk you for it, unless they were also willing to arrest you for something. Some on the Hill had outstanding warrants, so they deliberately didn’t carry their ID. Others, such as Mister Lee and the Geomancer, probably had no ID, but the cops had no interest in them. Nick Manhattan, on the other hand, they were determined to find out who he really was.
I’m not sure if the legalese written in large lettering on the tipi door flap deterred them from entering.
THIS CIRCLE AND ALL THAT IS WITHIN OR ABOVE IT IS SOVEREIGN THE RIGHT TO PRIVACY AND FREEDOM OF SPEECH SHALL NOT BE VIOLATED
But they must have been instructed in the procedure on how to approach me. The same routine every time. They lifted the door flap with their nightstick and peeked in. If I was there, they requested the “Fourth Amendment wiseass” to come outside to talk. I always played the “citizen” and complied.
One afternoon, on a walk just before dusk, I spotted a roll of linoleum at a small fenced-off construction site that abutted the sidewalk. The linoleum was partially sticking out from under the fence and halfway on the sidewalk. Not quite trash, but neglected and undervalued. My sideways thought on the spot was that I should put some linoleum on part of the tipi’s dirt floor. If not, someone on the Hill would likely want it for their hut.
Just before I entered the shantytown with the linoleum on my shoulder, I was stopped by two plainclothes cops who showed me their badges. Later I would come to know them as Frick and Frack Fury. Frick did the questioning.
“Where did you get that?”
“In some trash.”
I pointed south. “Down there somewhere.”
“Come on, let’s take a walk. Show us where you found it. It’s an unopened roll of flooring. Seems unlikely someone would throw that in the trash.”
“I can’t remember exactly where.”
“Show me where you got it, or we’ll have to take you in.”
I hesitated, quickly scanning my citizen mind for a Fourth Amendment response, but I knew that in this case, my citizenship had been revoked. I was the same as everyone else on the Hill.
“Come on, my man, if we really wanted to arrest you, we’d have done it already. Let’s take a walk. It’ll refresh your memory.” I had no hope. My citizen mind was already in lock-down mode so my criminal mind started scheming.
“Alright, but it might be a pretty good walk.”
“No problem. You’re Chief, right? Why don’t you put that in your tipi before we take our walk?” A fake laugh from Frick. “Somebody might steal it from you out here.”
Eddie was standing out in the yard. He turned his head away as we entered, pretending he didn’t notice us. Frick called out a greeting. “Hey Eddie, my man, you see anything exciting today?” Eddie vaguely shook his head and took a couple compulsive steps away, obviously apprehensive about what was going down. I set the linoleum down outside the tipi door flap, briefly noting the now meaningless words on it. As we left for our walk, Frick called back at Eddie. “Keep an eye on that for Chief and me. It’s ours, don’t let anyone touch it.”
My plan was to lead them indirectly toward the construction site. Somewhere along the route I should be able to spot a dumpster or some other site where I might plausibly have found flooring.
As we walk, Frick is at my side and silent Frack a couple steps behind us. Frick attempts to be conversational. We both know it’s a ploy but I play along.
“That’s quite a tipi you got there. Are you part Indian or something?”
“No, uh, uh.”
“Are you thinking of putting in a floor with that linoleum roll. I don’t think a real Indian would do that.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right. The floor should stay dirt.”
“I love that tipi. Never seen a real one like that before. I heard that your girlfriend made it. She’s an artist, right?”
“Yeah, she’s an artist.”
I’m sure I blushed but it was dark out now and he wouldn’t have noticed. Frick knew too much about me, about us. Gabriele hadn’t moved into the tipi yet. I suddenly got a disturbing image of undercover cops trailing her when she left the tipi to go to our apartment in Brooklyn and was on the verge of just coming out and telling him everything about me. Then Frick said something that further convinced me I should do exactly that.
“You guys seem like good folk to me. I know you’re not junkies, so it’s hard for me to figure why you’re living up there. There’s a joke going around the station that you have more police blood in you than Indian blood. That you might be Chief of some kind of police. You ain’t no police, are you, Chief? That would be ironic, the two us blowing your cover over a piece of linoleum you stole. Us being on the same team and all.”
I was at first relieved, but then immediately scared shitless. Frick and Frack thinking that I was police investigating police was something I never imagined and could be extremely dangerous.
I forced a laugh. “That’s crazy. We’re not police. We’re artists and social activists. We put up the tipi in commemoration of the centennial of the Wounded Knee Massacre. We didn’t think the police, the City, would even allow it to stay up. The centennial is still almost a month away, so now I need to live in it until then. We’re going to take it down after the ceremony and go back to living in our apartment after that.”
“Well, I wish you the best with that. That’s a good cause. I’ve heard about Wounded Knee. They killed women and children. People were fucking evil back then. Listen, Chief, where are we headed here? We’re not walking in a straight direction. Where is this place where you found it?”
“I think it’s around the corner over there.” In attempting to find the elusive dumpster, I had been leading us on a circuitous route to the construction site. But now, after revealing who I really was, my criminal mind switched back into citizen mode. I was leading us straight to the scene of the non-crime. The NYC cop motto: to serve and protect. And Frick had just said he loved the tipi and its cause…
At the construction site, there were various scattered materials on both sides of its cyclone fence. “I picked it up here. The linoleum roll was on this side of the fence with this other stuff.”
Frick shakes his head in disbelief. “You dumbass. You’re busted. You got anything in your pockets that you don’t want showing up when you’re booked?”
I pull a 5-inch folded Buck knife from my pocket and go to hand it to him.
“I don’t want that. Throw it in the gutter over there and then put your hands behind your back.”
The Fifth Precinct station house was only three blocks away on Mott Street. On the walk there, I realized I was still the same juvenile delinquent I was at seventeen when I first graduated from the local town jail to the county jail. Now here I was making it to the big time again. The Tombs.