An opinion column by Michael Lacey
The federal government has alleged that because I once co-owned a classified website, Backpage.com, I “facilitated prostitution” and then laundered money when I bought a home. This charge is based upon classified ads posted by our readers.
The FBI arrested me on April 6, 2018, and incarcerated me in a prison until I was bailed out eight days later.
In reality, the seven people charged in this case facilitated advertising and free speech, and state and federal courts have repeatedly said precisely that.
As I type, an ankle bracelet on my left foot, affixed by a federal agent, emits a pulse allowing government agents to track my every move.
These men always know exactly where I am.
I have no privacy.
The surveillance jewelry, given to me after my release from prison, renders the bottom of my left leg a cankle. And not just any cankle.
This is a cankle large enough to intimidate Hillary, Oprah, or Kamala.
So, my new wife — whose honeymoon was canceled when the FBI raid culminated in the seizure of my passport — thought perhaps we could go to a stateside beach.
One of those California beaches with cankle parking.
* * *
Every day between Tuesday and Friday, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., I have to call Paul Dickerson Bonds, to check in with them. Paul is part of the new Team Lacey. One of his associates is from my hometown in upstate New York. She knows that a meat snack in Binghamton bars is called a Speedie. Moments of grace and conversation ease the pressure of the Orwellian bracelet’s signal.
And every morning I also have to phone (602) 322-7350. After a couple of short rings, a taped message tells me the day’s color.
If my color comes up, I have to go to pretrial services and pee in a cup to prove I am not so despondent about my ankle bracelet that I resorted to self-medication.
On Monday, May 21, the tape recorder spit out my pigment.
Off I went to visit one of my handlers, an Intensive Supervision Specialist with U.S. Pretrial Services.
His office is located on the second floor in the Sandra Day O’Connor federal courthouse. It is the single hottest building in Phoenix. And it is at its worst in our notorious warm months (in other words, now). It was designed by serial tongue-in-your-mouth sexual harasser, Richard Meier.
One of Meier’s partners described their intent: “We felt we needed to make an offering to the city in the way of a significant urban room, a shaded space where people could come as a respite.”
There is a shooting range in the basement where U.S. marshals can fire pistols or machine guns, presumably as a respite.
Although fixated upon white color schemes in his work, Meier’s courthouse is an immense vault sheathed in sea-green glass. Because the space is such an enormous glass cave, the sun’s heat creates a lava aquarium inside the building that no engineering can cool.
Meier is one more ego-throbbing architect who designed a pretty but broken building. It cost more than $100 million. A working building costs more.
After a security screening, you walk into the expansive interior courtyard aware that you are making your way through a pudding of heat and humidity. I say humidity because the government can’t afford central air-conditioning for the courtyard, which appears to stretch to the horizon, across the plains of Mongolia. Instead, a water-intensive, evaporative cooling is… well… “employed” is a little grand. The evaporative cooling is the little engine that couldn’t. After all, swamp coolers — and that name actually speaks volumes — are post-World War II technology.
The office I urinate in is on the second floor.
In the distance, up a staircase, a life-size metal sculpture of Sandra Day O’Connor forever waits her turn to pee in a cup.
Inside the office, I sit in a reception area with magazines and an entire wall covered in pamphlets about HIV and STD and JESUS!
The brochures make me remember Bill Gates on my news feed saying President Trump doesn’t know the difference between HIV and HPV.
I don’t want to think about AIDS or genital warts; that doesn’t help you pee.
A colleague of my Intensive Supervision Specialist comes out of the inner office and asks if I am ready.
He escorts me into a secret room that requires a passkey to enter.
It’s just him and me now. He points me at a bin containing packages about the size of a rosin bag. He instructs me to open one of the bags.
Inside is a plastic cup with a blue screw-on cap.
I put myself — ahem, part of myself — inside the plastic cup.
He stands behind me.
And we wait.
I can’t pee.
I’m thinking: HIV-HPV, HIV-HPV.
Nest of straw-orange hair.
I cannot pee.
I try to think of something other than HIV-HPV.
What if I pee on my shoe? What if I pee on hisshoe?
This doesn’t help.
He turns on a water faucet.
Really? That doesn’t help.
He suggests I go downstairs into the tandoori oven of the Sandra Day O’Connor courtyard. There I drink from a water fountain, lingering, drinking, drinking. I imagine myself a black man 60 years ago, integrating a cracker water fountain in Mississippi.
Back upstairs, the nice man gives me a second rosin bag with a cup. We both go into our secret room. He turns on a water faucet. And…
How can this be happening?
He sends me back downstairs to the water fountain.
This happens three times.
After my last trip to the trough, I am as bloated with water as William Howard Taft was after consuming three growlers of Ohio’s finest oat stout.
But I am not someone who pees on command.
So acute is the mortification from this bureaucratic bleeding of the lizard that I barely manage enough urine for my regulator to check for the presence of cocaine, heroin, crack, marijuana, or an aversion to authority.
* * *
After submitting my “sample,” I meet my attorney at her office.
We review what bills I can or cannot pay. Mostly cannot, because the federal government has closed my bank accounts.
I do have one retirement check from the newspapers I edited.
But I don’t have a bank account where I can deposit the check.
But hold that thought. A new sensation is beginning to overwhelm me in the lawyer’s office.
I have to go.
I ask my attorney for the key to the firm’s bathroom.
There I piss like a Kentucky Derby winner.
For more than 40 years, Jim Larkin and I and our co-workers were First Amendment exemplars with our journalism at New Times and Village Voice Media. We believed — and we still believe — that users of Backpage had those same rights of free speech. Strippers, models, massage therapists, all manner of sex workers. Same as for all Americans, each and every one.
We all put our pants on one leg at a time. And you don’t lose the First Amendment if there’s a G-string under your slacks.
Eventually, in 2020, a judge will have this on his calendar.
Until then, I’ll wear an ankle monitor, sport a cankle, and pee on command, like an organ grinder’s monkey.
An organ grinder’s very aggravated monkey.