“I didn’t want it to come to this,” says the baby-faced policeman, walking up to our beer-swilling Brooklyn stoop party one sultry Saturday night, “but you’re drinking outside.”
Our assembled inebriates eyeball one another, wondering, What in tarnation? We’re inside a gate, quietly sipping brewskis. Nearby, a block party rages with partiers screeching like cats in heat. By comparison, we’re positively monkish.
“Excuse me,” I ask, emboldened by bitter, caramel Middle Ages IPA and strong, golden Pranqster Belgian—style ale, “but what law have we broken?”
“No one filed a report,” the cop says wearily, while his likewise boyish cohort taps his feet. “We’re trying to cut down on outdoor drinking and public urination.”
“But we’re doing neither,” I say. My tinkle’s for toilets or potted houseplants—why waste my natural fertilizer?
“You’re drinking in public view.”
I’m flabbergasted. Along with rolling blackouts, broiling heat waves and Chinatown’s unholy stink, outdoor drinking is a summertime staple. Bohemian Hall. The Boat Basin Café. Franklin Park. Heck, the city nets dump trucks of dollars in sidewalk-café fees, permitting patrons to booze in sight of grannies and bugaboo mommies alike. Why curtail open-air tippling? It’s a moneymaker—oh, money.
“What’s the statute?” I inquire, as haughtily as an heiress demanding a second coat of fingernail varnish.
The policeman rattles off letters and numbers seemingly pulled from a Scrabble set.
“We’re in Brooklyn,” I exclaim incredulously. “Stoops are a way of life.” Banning stoop drinking siphons away Brooklyn’s essence. What’s next, a 2 a.m. last call? A cleaned-up Coney Island? No trans fats in my Jamaican beef patties? Um, crap.
“Do you live here?” the cop sighs, sick of my inquisition.
“I need to speak to someone who lives here.”
My French pal Bati steps forward, brandishing his ID like an Olympic torch. Bati is Quaalude calm, perhaps owing to his European temperament—or that he’s blitzed away worries with his father’s homemade moonshine, a fruity rocket fuel. Bati and the cop chitchat. He jots down the Frenchman’s information.
“Are you giving him a ticket?” I inquire, my pressure-cooker temper simmering.
“And what if you gave him a ticket? What does that mean?” I am yenta, hear me roar!
“Not much,” the cop admits. “The fine is only $20.”
“So is this just another temporary crackdown? Like when people got tickets for sitting on subway stairs or jaywalking?”
The policemen play mute.
“Fifty dollars. It cost me $50 for riding on the sidewalk. And I only rode five feet from my apartment’s gate to the street.” I fought this ticket in court, but the judge—clearly unswayed by my blue pinstripe suit—upheld my ticket with “guilty” and a gavel thwack.
“Well—” the cop starts, before I cut him short.
“Let me tell you a story,” I begin, like a drunken grandfather lecturing a captive grandkid audience. Several years ago, I rode the subway to Brooklyn’s leafy Prospect-Lefferts Gardens to attend a party. With fireworks hidden in my jacket, I splayed my feet on a neighboring seat and opened a Corona. I was cold chillaxing until cops yanked me and my smorgasbord of illegality off the train.
I awaited judgment with armpits sweatier than the beer in my hand.
“Did you realize you had your feet on the seat?” one meaty cop asked.
“That’s against the law.”
“Throw the beer and the fireworks away. You’re getting a ticket for your feet on the seat.”
“Quota enforcement,” I say, addressing the drinking police. “Now what happens if we keep our beverages in plastic cups?”
“That’s still drinking in public view.”
“But last month, a cop told us it was OK if we poured the beer into plastic cups,” chimes in Emily, Bati’s schoolteacher wife.
The cops are silent, their fight stripped away as if they’re schoolyard bullies who’ve been de-pantsed to their tightie-whities.
“Look, just don’t do it again,” the instigating cop says, shaking his head, a beaten man. The law enforcers shuffle into the noisy Brooklyn eve, searching out lawless drinking and illicit urination. We stomp inside, crack cold Yuenglings and King Cobras, crank the stereo’s thumping soul tunes and drink deep into the night, getting royally pissed far from the prying eyes of the NYPD.