Little Brother – Chapter 12

The following chapter from Cory Doctorow's book Little Brother is used with permission via a license (details at end). Please support the author by buying his book (click the image below).

Little_Brother

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Chapter 12

Ms Galvez's smile was wide.

"Does anyone know what that comes from?"

A bunch of people chorused, "The Declaration of Independence."

I nodded.

"Why did you read that to us, Marcus?"

"Because it seems to me that the founders of this country said that governments should only last for so long as we believe that they're working for us, and if we stop believing in them, we should overthrow them. That's what it says, right?"

Charles shook his head. "That was hundreds of years ago!" he said. "Things are different now!"

"What's different?"

"Well, for one thing, we don't have a king anymore. They were talking about a government that existed because some old jerk's great-great-great-grandfather believed that God put him in charge and killed everyone who disagreed with him. We have a democratically elected government --"

"I didn't vote for them," I said.

"So that gives you the right to blow up a building?"

"What? Who said anything about blowing up a building? The Yippies and hippies and all those people believed that the government no longer listened to them -- look at the way people who tried to sign up voters in the South were treated! They were beaten up, arrested --"

"Some of them were killed," Ms Galvez said. She held up her hands and waited for Charles and me to sit down. "We're almost out of time for today, but I want to commend you all on one of the most interesting classes I've ever taught. This has been an excellent discussion and I've learned much from you all. I hope you've learned from each other, too. Thank you all for your contributions.

"I have an extra-credit assignment for those of you who want a little challenge. I'd like you to write up a paper comparing the political response to the anti-war and civil rights movements in the Bay Area to the present day civil rights responses to the War on Terror. Three pages minimum, but take as long as you'd like. I'm interested to see what you come up with."

The bell rang a moment later and everyone filed out of the class. I hung back and waited for Ms Galvez to notice me.

"Yes, Marcus?"

"That was amazing," I said. "I never knew all that stuff about the sixties."

"The seventies, too. This place has always been an exciting place to live in politically charged times. I really liked your reference to the Declaration -- that was very clever."

"Thanks," I said. "It just came to me. I never really appreciated what those words all meant before today."

"Well, those are the words every teacher loves to hear, Marcus," she said, and shook my hand. "I can't wait to read your paper."

#

I bought the Emma Goldman poster on the way home and stuck it up over my desk, tacked over a vintage black-light poster. I also bought a NEVER TRUST t-shirt that had a photoshop of Grover and Elmo kicking the grownups Gordon and Susan off Sesame Street. It made me laugh. I later found out that there had already been about six photoshop contests for the slogan online in places like Fark and Worth1000 and B3ta and there were hundreds of ready-made pics floating around to go on whatever merch someone churned out.

Mom raised an eyebrow at the shirt, and Dad shook his head and lectured me about not looking for trouble. I felt a little vindicated by his reaction.

Ange found me online again and we IM-flirted until late at night again. The white van with the antennas came back and I switched off my Xbox until it had passed. We'd all gotten used to doing that.

Ange was really excited by this party. It looked like it was going to be monster. There were so many bands signed up they were talking about setting up a B-stage for the secondary acts.

> How'd they get a permit to blast sound all night in that park? There's houses all around there

> Per-mit? What is "per-mit"? Tell me more of your hu-man per-mit.

> Woah, it's illegal?

> Um, hello? You're worried about breaking the law?

> Fair point

> LOL

I felt a little premonition of nervousness though. I mean, I was taking this perfectly awesome girl out on a date that weekend -- well, she was taking me, technically -- to an illegal rave being held in the middle of a busy neighborhood.

It was bound to be interesting at least.

#

Interesting.

People started to drift into Dolores Park through the long Saturday afternoon, showing up among the ultimate frisbee players and the dog-walkers. Some of them played frisbee or walked dogs. It wasn't really clear how the concert was going to work, but there were a lot of cops and undercovers hanging around. You could tell the undercovers because, like Zit and Booger, they had Castro haircuts and Nebraska physiques: tubby guys with short hair and untidy mustaches. They drifted around, looking awkward and uncomfortable in their giant shorts and loose-fitting shirts that no-doubt hung down to cover the chandelier of gear hung around their midriffs.

Dolores Park is pretty and sunny, with palm trees, tennis courts, and lots of hills and regular trees to run around on, or hang out on. Homeless people sleep there at night, but that's true everywhere in San Francisco.

I met Ange down the street, at the anarchist bookstore. That had been my suggestion. In hindsight, it was a totally transparent move to seem cool and edgy to this girl, but at the time I would have sworn that I picked it because it was a convenient place to meet up. She was reading a book called Up Against the Wall Motherfucker when I got there.

"Nice," I said. "You kiss your mother with that mouth?"

"Your mama don't complain," she said. "Actually, it's a history of a group of people like the Yippies, but from New York. They all used that word as their last names, like 'Ben M-F.' The idea was to have a group out there, making news, but with a totally unprintable name. Just to screw around with the news-media. Pretty funny, really." She put the book back on the shelf and now I wondered if I should hug her. People in California hug to say hello and goodbye all the time. Except when they don't. And sometimes they kiss on the cheek. It's all very confusing.

She settled it for me by grabbing me in a hug and tugging my head down to her, kissing me hard on the cheek, then blowing a fart on my neck. I laughed and pushed her away.

"You want a burrito?" I asked.

"Is that a question or a statement of the obvious?"

"Neither. It's an order."

I bought some funny stickers that said THIS PHONE IS TAPPED which were the right size to put on the receivers on the pay phones that still lined the streets of the Mission, it being the kind of neighborhood where you got people who couldn't necessarily afford a cellphone.

We walked out into the night air. I told Ange about the scene at the park when I left.

"I bet they have a hundred of those trucks parked around the block," she said. "The better to bust you with."

"Um." I looked around. "I sort of hoped that you would say something like, 'Aw, there's no chance they'll do anything about it.'"

"I don't think that's really the idea. The idea is to put a lot of civilians in a position where the cops have to decide, are we going to treat these ordinary people like terrorists? It's a little like the jamming, but with music instead of gadgets. You jam, right?"

Sometimes I forget that all my friends don't know that Marcus and M1k3y are the same person. "Yeah, a little," I said.

"This is like jamming with a bunch of awesome bands."

"I see."

Mission burritos are an institution. They are cheap, giant and delicious. Imagine a tube the size of a bazooka shell, filled with spicy grilled meat, guacamole, salsa, tomatoes, refried beans, rice, onions and cilantro. It has the same relationship to Taco Bell that a Lamborghini has to a Hot Wheels car.

There are about two hundred Mission burrito joints. They're all heroically ugly, with uncomfortable seats, minimal decor -- faded Mexican tourist office posters and electrified framed Jesus and Mary holograms -- and loud mariachi music. The thing that distinguishes them, mostly, is what kind of exotic meat they fill their wares with. The really authentic places have brains and tongue, which I never order, but it's nice to know it's there.

The place we went to had both brains and tongue, which we didn't order. I got carne asada and she got shredded chicken and we each got a big cup of horchata.

As soon as we sat down, she unrolled her burrito and took a little bottle out of her purse. It was a little stainless-steel aerosol canister that looked for all the world like a pepper-spray self-defense unit. She aimed it at her burrito's exposed guts and misted them with a fine red oily spray. I caught a whiff of it and my throat closed and my eyes watered.

"What the hell are you doing to that poor, defenseless burrito?"

She gave me a wicked smile. "I'm a spicy food addict," she said. "This is capsaicin oil in a mister."

"Capsaicin --"

"Yeah, the stuff in pepper spray. This is like pepper spray but slightly more dilute. And way more delicious. Think of it as Spicy Cajun Visine if it helps."

My eyes burned just thinking of it.

"You're kidding," I said. "You are so not going to eat that."

Her eyebrows shot up. "That sounds like a challenge, sonny. You just watch me."

She rolled the burrito up as carefully as a stoner rolling up a joint, tucking the ends in, then re-wrapping it in tinfoil. She peeled off one end and brought it up to her mouth, poised with it just before her lips.

Right up to the time she bit into it, I couldn't believe that she was going to do it. I mean, that was basically an anti-personnel weapon she'd just slathered on her dinner.

She bit into it. Chewed. Swallowed. Gave every impression of having a delicious dinner.

"Want a bite?" she said, innocently.

"Yeah," I said. I like spicy food. I always order the curries with four chilies next to them on the menu at the Pakistani places.

I peeled back more foil and took a big bite.

Big mistake.

You know that feeling you get when you take a big bite of horseradish or wasabi or whatever, and it feels like your sinuses are closing at the same time as your windpipe, filling your head with trapped, nuclear-hot air that tries to batter its way out through your watering eyes and nostrils? That feeling like steam is about to pour out of your ears like a cartoon character?

This was a lot worse.

This was like putting your hand on a hot stove, only it's not your hand, it's the entire inside of your head, and your esophagus all the way down to your stomach. My entire body sprang out in a sweat and I choked and choked.

Wordlessly, she passed me my horchata and I managed to get the straw into my mouth and suck hard on it, gulping down half of it in one go.

"So there's a scale, the Scoville scale, that we chili-fanciers use to talk about how spicy a pepper is. Pure capsaicin is about 15 million Scovilles. Tabasco is about 50,000. Pepper spray is a healthy three million. This stuff is a puny 200,000, about as hot as a mild Scotch Bonnet Pepper. I worked up to it in about a year. Some of the real hardcore can get up to a million or so, twenty times hotter than Tabasco. That's pretty freaking hot. At Scoville temperatures like that, your brain gets totally awash in endorphins. It's a better body-stone than hash. And it's good for you."

I was getting my sinuses back now, able to breathe without gasping.

"Of course, you get a ferocious ring of fire when you go to the john," she said, winking at me.

Yowch.

"You are insane," I said.

"Fine talk from a man whose hobby is building and smashing laptops," she said.

"Touche," I said and touched my forehead.

"Want some?" She held out her mister.

"Pass," I said, quickly enough that we both laughed.

When we left the restaurant and headed for Dolores park, she put her arm around my waist and I found that she was just the right height for me to put my arm around her shoulders. That was new. I'd never been a tall guy, and the girls I'd dated had all been my height -- teenaged girls grow faster than guys, which is a cruel trick of nature. It was nice. It felt nice.

We turned the corner on 20th Street and walked up toward Dolores. Before we'd taken a single step, we could feel the buzz. It was like the hum of a million bees. There were lots of people streaming toward the park, and when I looked toward it, I saw that it was about a hundred times more crowded than it had been when I went to meet Ange.

That sight made my blood run hot. It was a beautiful cool night and we were about to party, really party, party like there was no tomorrow. "Eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die."

Without saying anything we both broke into a trot. There were lots of cops, with tense faces, but what the hell were they going to do? There were a lot of people in the park. I'm not so good at counting crowds. The papers later quoted organizers as saying there were 20,000 people; the cops said 5,000. Maybe that means there were 12,500.

Whatever. It was more people than I'd ever stood among, as part of an unscheduled, unsanctioned, illegal event.

We were among them in an instant. I can't swear to it, but I don't think there was anyone over 25 in that press of bodies. Everyone was smiling. Some young kids were there, 10 or 12, and that made me feel better. No one would do anything too stupid with kids that little in the crowd. No one wanted to see little kids get hurt. This was just going to be a glorious spring night of celebration.

I figured the thing to do was push in towards the tennis courts. We threaded our way through the crowd, and to stay together we took each other's hands. Only staying together didn't require us to intertwine fingers. That was strictly for pleasure. It was very pleasurable.

The bands were all inside the tennis courts, with their guitars and mixers and keyboards and even a drum kit. Later, on Xnet, I found a Flickr stream of them smuggling all this stuff in, piece by piece, in gym bags and under their coats. Along with it all were huge speakers, the kind you see in automotive supply places, and among them, a stack of...car batteries. I laughed. Genius! That was how they were going to power their stacks. From where I stood, I could see that they were cells from a hybrid car, a Prius. Someone had gutted an eco-mobile to power the night's entertainment. The batteries continued outside the courts, stacked up against the fence, tethered to the main stack by wires threaded through the chain-link. I counted -- 200 batteries! Christ! Those things weighed a ton, too.

There's no way they organized this without email and wikis and mailing lists. And there's no way people this smart would have done that on the public Internet. This had all taken place on the Xnet, I'd bet my boots on it.

We just kind of bounced around in the crowd for a while as the bands tuned up and conferred with one another. I saw Trudy Doo from a distance, in the tennis courts. She looked like she was in a cage, like a pro wrestler. She was wearing a torn wife-beater and her hair was in long, fluorescent pink dreads down to her waist. She was wearing army camouflage pants and giant gothy boots with steel over-toes. As I watched, she picked up a heavy motorcycle jacket, worn as a catcher's mitt, and put it on like armor. It probably was armor, I realized.

I tried to wave to her, to impress Ange I guess, but she didn't see me and I kind of looked like a spazz so I stopped. The energy in the crowd was amazing. You hear people talk about "vibes" and "energy" for big groups of people, but until you've experienced it, you probably think it's just a figure of speech.

It's not. It's the smiles, infectious and big as watermelons, on every face. Everyone bopping a little to an unheard rhythm, shoulders rocking. Rolling walks. Jokes and laughs. The tone of every voice tight and excited, like a firework about to go off. And you can't help but be a part of it. Because you are.

By the time the bands kicked off, I was utterly stoned on crowd-vibe. The opening act was some kind of Serbian turbo-folk, which I couldn't figure out how to dance to. I know how to dance to exactly two kinds of music: trance (shuffle around and let the music move you) and punk (bash around and mosh until you get hurt or exhausted or both). The next act was Oakland hip-hoppers, backed by a thrash metal band, which is better than it sounds. Then some bubble-gum pop. Then Speedwhores took the stage, and Trudy Doo stepped up to the mic.

"My name is Trudy Doo and you're an idiot if you trust me. I'm thirty two and it's too late for me. I'm lost. I'm stuck in the old way of thinking. I still take my freedom for granted and let other people take it away from me. You're the first generation to grow up in Gulag America, and you know what your freedom is worth to the last goddamned cent!"

The crowd roared. She was playing fast little skittery nervous chords on her guitar and her bass player, a huge fat girl with a dykey haircut and even bigger boots and a smile you could open beer bottles with was laying it down fast and hard already. I wanted to bounce. I bounced. Ange bounced with me. We were sweating freely in the evening, which reeked of perspiration and pot smoke. Warm bodies crushed in on all sides of us. They bounced too.

"Don't trust anyone over 25!" she shouted.

We roared. We were one big animal throat, roaring.

"Don't trust anyone over 25!"

"Don't trust anyone over 25!"

"Don't trust anyone over 25!"

"Don't trust anyone over 25!"

"Don't trust anyone over 25!"

"Don't trust anyone over 25!"

She banged some hard chords on her guitar and the other guitarist, a little pixie of a girl whose face bristled with piercings, jammed in, going wheedle-dee-wheedle-dee-dee up high, past the twelfth fret.

"It's our goddamned city! It's our goddamned country. No terrorist can take it from us for so long as we're free. Once we're not free, the terrorists win! Take it back! Take it back! You're young enough and stupid enough not to know that you can't possibly win, so you're the only ones who can lead us to victory! Take it back!"

"TAKE IT BACK!" we roared. She jammed down hard on her guitar. We roared the note back and then it got really really LOUD.

#

I danced until I was so tired I couldn't dance another step. Ange danced alongside of me. Technically, we were rubbing our sweaty bodies against each other for several hours, but believe it or not, I totally wasn't being a horn-dog about it. We were dancing, lost in the godbeat and the thrash and the screaming -- TAKE IT BACK! TAKE IT BACK!

When I couldn't dance anymore, I grabbed her hand and she squeezed mine like I was keeping her from falling off a building. She dragged me toward the edge of the crowd, where it got thinner and cooler. Out there, on the edge of Dolores Park, we were in the cool air and the sweat on our bodies went instantly icy. We shivered and she threw her arms around my waist. "Warm me," she commanded. I didn't need a hint. I hugged her back. Her heart was an echo of the fast beats from the stage -- breakbeats now, fast and furious and wordless.

She smelled of sweat, a sharp tang that smelled great. I knew I smelled of sweat too. My nose was pointed into the top of her head, and her face was right at my collarbone. She moved her hands to my neck and tugged.

"Get down here, I didn't bring a stepladder," is what she said and I tried to smile, but it's hard to smile when you're kissing.

Like I said, I'd kissed three girls in my life. Two of them had never kissed anyone before. One had been dating since she was 12. She had issues.

None of them kissed like Ange. She made her whole mouth soft, like the inside of a ripe piece of fruit, and she didn't jam her tongue in my mouth, but slid it in there, and sucked my lips into her mouth at the same time, so it was like my mouth and hers were merging. I heard myself moan and I grabbed her and squeezed her harder.

Slowly, gently, we lowered ourselves to the grass. We lay on our sides and clutched each other, kissing and kissing. The world disappeared so there was only the kiss.

My hands found her butt, her waist. The edge of her t-shirt. Her warm tummy, her soft navel. They inched higher. She moaned too.

"Not here," she said. "Let's move over there." She pointed across the street at the big white church that gives Mission Dolores Park and the Mission its name. Holding hands, moving quickly, we crossed to the church. It had big pillars in front of it. She put my back up against one of them and pulled my face down to hers again. My hands went quickly and boldly back to her shirt. I slipped them up her front.

"It undoes in the back," she whispered into my mouth. I had a boner that could cut glass. I moved my hands around to her back, which was strong and broad, and found the hook with my fingers, which were trembling. I fumbled for a while, thinking of all those jokes about how bad guys are at undoing bras. I was bad at it. Then the hook sprang free. She gasped into my mouth. I slipped my hands around, feeling the wetness of her armpits -- which was sexy and not at all gross for some reason -- and then brushed the sides of her breasts.

That's when the sirens started.

They were louder than anything I'd ever heard. A sound like a physical sensation, like something blowing you off your feet. A sound as loud as your ears could process, and then louder.

"DISPERSE IMMEDIATELY," a voice said, like God rattling in my skull.

"THIS IS AN ILLEGAL GATHERING. DISPERSE IMMEDIATELY."

The band had stopped playing. The noise of the crowd across the street changed. It got scared. Angry.

I heard a click as the PA system of car-speakers and car-batteries in the tennis courts powered up.

"TAKE IT BACK!"

It was a defiant yell, like a sound shouted into the surf or screamed off a cliff.

"TAKE IT BACK!"

The crowd growled, a sound that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

"TAKE IT BACK!" they chanted. "TAKE IT BACK TAKE IT BACK TAKE IT BACK!"

The police moved in in lines, carrying plastic shields, wearing Darth Vader helmets that covered their faces. Each one had a black truncheon and infra-red goggles. They looked like soldiers out of some futuristic war movie. They took a step forward in unison and every one of them banged his truncheon on his shield, a cracking noise like the earth splitting. Another step, another crack. They were all around the park and closing in now.

"DISPERSE IMMEDIATELY," the voice of God said again. There were helicopters overhead now. No floodlights, though. The infrared goggles, right. Of course. They'd have infrared scopes in the sky, too. I pulled Ange back against the doorway of the church, tucking us back from the cops and the choppers.

"TAKE IT BACK!" the PA roared. It was Trudy Doo's rebel yell and I heard her guitar thrash out some chords, then her drummer playing, then that big deep bass.

"TAKE IT BACK!" the crowd answered, and they boiled out of the park at the police lines.

I've never been in a war, but now I think I know what it must be like. What it must be like when scared kids charge across a field at an opposing force, knowing what's coming, running anyway, screaming, hollering.

"DISPERSE IMMEDIATELY," the voice of God said. It was coming from trucks parked all around the park, trucks that had swung into place in the last few seconds.

That's when the mist fell. It came out of the choppers, and we just caught the edge of it. It made the top of my head feel like it was going to come off. It made my sinuses feel like they were being punctured with ice-picks. It made my eyes swell and water, and my throat close.

Pepper spray. Not 200 thousand Scovilles. A million and a half. They'd gassed the crowd.

I didn't see what happened next, but I heard it, over the sound of both me and Ange choking and holding each other. First the choking, retching sounds. The guitar and drums and bass crashed to a halt. Then coughing.

Then screaming.

The screaming went on for a long time. When I could see again, the cops had their scopes up on their foreheads and the choppers were flooding Dolores Park with so much light it looked like daylight. Everyone was looking at the Park, which was good news, because when the lights went up like that, we were totally visible.

"What do we do?" Ange said. Her voice was tight, scared. I didn't trust myself to speak for a moment. I swallowed a few times.

"We walk away," I said. "That's all we can do. Walk away. Like we were just passing by. Down to Dolores and turn left and up towards 16th Street. Like we're just passing by. Like this is none of our business."

"That'll never work," she said.

"It's all I've got."

"You don't think we should try to run for it?"

"No," I said. "If we run, they'll chase us. Maybe if we walk, they'll figure we haven't done anything and let us alone. They have a lot of arrests to make. They'll be busy for a long time."

The park was rolling with bodies, people and adults clawing at their faces and gasping. The cops dragged them by the armpits, then lashed their wrists with plastic cuffs and tossed them into the trucks like rag-dolls.

"OK?" I said.

"OK," she said.

And that's just what we did. Walked, holding hands, quickly and business-like, like two people wanting to avoid whatever trouble someone else was making. The kind of walk you adopt when you want to pretend you can't see a panhandler, or don't want to get involved in a street-fight.

It worked.

We reached the corner and turned and kept going. Neither of us dared to speak for two blocks. Then I let out a gasp of air I hadn't known I'd been holding in.

We came to 16th Street and turned down toward Mission Street. Normally that's a pretty scary neighborhood at 2AM on a Saturday night. That night it was a relief -- same old druggies and hookers and dealers and drunks. No cops with truncheons, no gas.

"Um," I said as we breathed in the night air. "Coffee?"

"Home," she said. "I think home for now. Coffee later."

"Yeah," I agreed. She lived up in Hayes Valley. I spotted a taxi rolling by and I hailed it. That was a small miracle -- there are hardly any cabs when you need them in San Francisco.

"Have you got cabfare home?"

"Yeah," she said. The cab-driver looked at us through his window. I opened the back door so he wouldn't take off.

"Good night," I said.

She put her hands behind my head and pulled my face toward her. She kissed me hard on the mouth, nothing sexual in it, but somehow more intimate for that.

"Good night," she whispered in my ear, and slipped into the taxi.

Head swimming, eyes running, a burning shame for having left all those Xnetters to the tender mercies of the DHS and the SFPD, I set off for home.

#

Monday morning, Fred Benson was standing behind Ms Galvez's desk.

"Ms Galvez will no longer be teaching this class," he said, once we'd taken our seats. He had a self-satisfied note that I recognized immediately. On a hunch, I checked out Charles. He was smiling like it was his birthday and he'd been given the best present in the world.

I put my hand up.

"Why not?"

"It's Board policy not to discuss employee matters with anyone except the employee and the disciplinary committee," he said, without even bothering to hide how much he enjoyed saying it.

"We'll be beginning a new unit today, on national security. Your SchoolBooks have the new texts. Please open them and turn to the first screen."

The opening screen was emblazoned with a DHS logo and the title: WHAT EVERY AMERICAN SHOULD KNOW ABOUT HOMELAND SECURITY.

I wanted to throw my SchoolBook on the floor.

#

I'd made arrangements to meet Ange at a cafe in her neighborhood after school. I jumped on the BART and found myself sitting behind two guys in suits. They were looking at the San Francisco Chronicle, which featured a full-page post-mortem on the "youth riot" in Mission Dolores Park. They were tutting and clucking over it. Then one said to the other, "It's like they're brainwashed or something. Christ, were we ever that stupid?"

I got up and moved to another seat.

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License .