Cops at carnival

“He needs to get his hustle together”
Unnamed carny

Jerome worked with me on the Super Slide two towns ago. He took the BART to the last town we worked and ran the Gravitron, a centrifugal motion machine.

Today, opening day in a new San Francisco suburb, I was sitting on a fold-out chair as a Mexican woman was cutting my hair. He walked up from behind.

“Where you going next,” he said, his layers of old jackets on and a huge smile on his face. “Doesn’t matter because next time I see you, I’ll be driving a car. I’ll get your number and call you. Or I’ll just use my GPS.”

Jerome is 50ish, an African-American of medium height, with a strong build who has a streetwise, infectious rap.

I witnessed him holding court in West Oakland, he created a world of funny for me and the other carnies as he described the miserable and dangerous life he lives every day.

A natural storyteller, almost everything Jerome did was fodder. He walked with an up-and-down swagger that sometimes changed tempo. He bummed so many cigarettes off other African-Americans, one complained that Jerome always seemed broke.

“He needs to get his hustle together.”

An ex-con, Jerome suspected me of being a cop so I never did find out his entire rap sheet.

Tonight, real undercover cops walked into the carnival. Another ex-con noticed, “he’s being followed.”

They put “the jewelry” on him and led him out in cuffs. His gait still unmistakable.

I asked around about the arrest. A supervisor said he knew nothing. A carny said he never asks when this happens.

I’ll never forget Jerome’s last words to me as I sat in that outdoor, makeshift barber’s chair, unaware of what was about to happen.

“That hair cut, oh no!”

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