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Except for hunters, undercover narcotic agents and professional skydivers, every line of work entails going through the motions. Motions are what leech the joy out of work. Motions are to real work what canned fruit is to pickin’ ‘em fresh off the tree. There are whole industries built on facilitating going through motions. Subways are motions we go through to get to the place where we get paid to go through motions. In San Francisco, the quasi-subway befuddles me. Sometimes it’s a subway; next, it’s a street-level electric bus. It’s strictly high class, too. The station floor is marble, and the graffiti is scant. What little you do see is grammatical, with all the T’s crossed. Most confusing had to be the subway cop on duty. This San Francisco version of Officer Krupke wasn’t undercover. He just stood there in the station while lost, pastel-wearing tourists ran up to him for directions. It was then that he revealed his purpose: He asked to see every direction-seeker’s ticket. A whole cop dedicated to stopping turnstile-hoppers. Meanwhile, everyone overhead who was not rushing across ever-frenetic Market Street blatantly peddled grass a mere block away from a police station. “Weed. Weed? Need some green bombs? Weed … “ But Krupke wasn’t hassling Dan the Dealer (whose stuff isn’t nearly worth the asking price). Instead, Krupke was running through the motions, asking descendants of the folks in “American Gothic” for proof of payment. Larry the Lunatic, a hybrid of Rasputin and the Mad Bomber Muppet, suddenly shot through the station. As he sprinted, his billowing beard bounced off his knees — only there was no departing train to sprint to. His panic-stricken eyes avoided Krupke. Here we go! Someone’s gonna get nailed by The Man! Only, nothing happened. Krupke did nothing, didn’t ask to see the ticket of the one guy who might have proved police time in a marble subway to be fruitful. It was then that I realized that Krupke didn’t expect to nail anyone for not having a ticket anymore than I did. When you go through the motions, the only thing you expect is the motions. Going through the motions plagues every facet of the law. Lawyers who argue in front of the same judge every day for years stop standing when they address the court; the court stopped caring about those lawyers not standing long ago. DAs and PDs ramble through their perfunctory rigamarole of a plea bargain, figuring that an assault and battery case deserves the same standard-issue compromise as the 20 A&Bs they tore through yesterday. During every class, half the law students with laptops (a quarter of all law students) master their Free Cell gaming strategies, using their laptops for time-passing when not used for class-passing. That’s the real reason visiting alums are seated up front. For all the “Law & Order” episodes I’ve watched, pumping my fist to each objection — “He’s badgering my witness!” — the law can prove blas� and repetitive enough to numb its participants to even their own dulled senses. Paradoxically, at the same time, some crime is so blatant, so indefatigable in its ritualized persistence and timeless presence, that it has become accepted. It’s OK for crack to be smoked in crack neighborhoods. That’s what they’re there for: to serve as designated crack-smoking sanctuaries where you can smoke rock in peace. Meanwhile, the bourgeoisie marvel at their crack-free sanctuaries as they down their third dry martini of the afternoon, wondering why the police can’t do more about the American drug problem displayed on TV every night. The system has become used to itself. It’s not supposed to change anything, if it ever was. Some communities think hearing drive-bys at night is unfortunately as normal as suburban communities find them unfathomable. And this sort of situation is a self-perpetuating one. Demographics have baby demographics, which in turn produce the same demographics in the same neighborhoods for generations to come. Tradition is everything! And our tradition is one of complacency. Much of the law serves for not much more than presence alone. Krupke makes a special guest appearance at San Francisco’s Civic Station Center. Dealer Dan is allowed to profit by his vice so long as it stays in the appropriate ZIP codes and doesn’t offend anyone in too high a tax bracket. Krupke concedes that part of his job is for show. Society concedes that what Dan does must be all right if it’s done every day with blatancy. Maybe in time turnstile-hopping will be viewed as unstoppable and incorrigible, as drugs are now. When it does, we’ll give a collective suburban sigh of impotence at a problem so indelibly fixed on the national landscape that “the memory of man runneth not to the contrary.” Krupke will then have to stand in grocery stores, on the look-out for shopping carts laden with 13 items in the 12-items-or-less line, while no one looks out for the everyday collusion that keeps milk prices in line with gasoline. The system has become used to not changing. Ours is therefore a conservative system by definition: It resists any change, especially change of conservative complicity. As for those few na�ve, youthful optimists who talk about changing things, the system sees them as simply going through their own demographical motions. They’ll grow up, grow rich, grow stale. But everyone seems to be trying to change everything every day. What about the war on drugs? Aren’t we spending billions to prove we’re not complacent? We’re spending billions on the illusion that we’re doing something. Does anyone really believe that money is going to stop illegal drug use? Our solutions have become more motions, just like our problems. When you live in a country supposedly rooted in law, overflowing with wealth and yet mired by intractable, egregious dilemmas, throwing billions at a black hole of a phantom nonsolution is as tried and true a psychological ploy as Vietnam, the Reagan era “Star Wars” missile defense plan and now, George Bush’s New Star Wars. It doesn’t matter how much wealth and resources we allocate to the law. Nor does it matter whether we win or lose; what matters is that we believe that what we are doing is going to do something. I figured my train wasn’t showing anytime soon. I went up to Market Street to buy $5 worth of time-passer. And there was Krupke, also surfacing from the station. He walked right by us. He didn’t ask for my ticket. Mitch Artman now lives and writes in Chicago.

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