I was riding around with my brother on one of those humid, St. Louis summer nights, the kind of night you can only really have in your hometown, the kind of night that can only really happen in a summer during high school or college, when you have nothing to do, can stay out as late as you want, and the whole world feels like it’s yours because you’re young and free and your mom gave up long ago on giving you a curfew.
On those nights, riding around in the car — the journey — maybe to dinner, maybe to a friend’s house, maybe to a movie, through the suburbs, blasting music, maybe hotboxing the car, is as enjoyable as arriving at the destination.
We were coming from somewhere and going somewhere; it doesn’t matter where, and we decided to get ice cream at Ted Drewes, the St. Louis staple, serving frozen custard since 1929. It really is good, guys — and gals!
The place was packed; there were long lines that moved fast, plus ice cream eaters lingering in the parking lot, there being no benches or chairs to be found, just the hoods and trunks and tailgates of cars and trucks, and that’s all anyone needed.
This particular night, though, the crowd was bigger than usual. There was a protest taking place. It was a protest against the dairy industry.
I don’t remember much. I do remember that after receiving my medium Reese’s Cups concrete (with extra Reese’s cups), I went over to speak with one of the protesters. And I remember that she told me of a video on YouTube called “Dairy is Scary,” which I later watched and found interesting, but not compelling enough to get me to change my fondness for milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream. (Upon another watch, I find it very compelling, and have decided indeed to reduce my consumption of dairy, although I’d be lying if I didn’t add that that a recent food sensitivity test suggested that my body doesn’t react well to dairy, which is my main motivation there.)
What I remember crystal-clearly is that one of the protesters was shirtless, except for hospital-style IV tubes hooked up to her nipples. The tubes were supposedly extracting milk from her breasts (although, since she wasn’t pregnant and didn’t look like she had been recently, I’m guessing it was some sort of trick, using water dyed white). I guess it was an effort to demonstrate one main point of that YouTube video: that it’s ridiculous for we humans to drink cow’s milk; dog’s milk being intended only for baby dogs, cat’s milk for baby cats, and, supposedly, cow’s milk only for baby cows, etc.
I was standing, eating my ice cream, philosophizing with a protester while watching this woman’s fake breast milk pump, intrigued but — I feel I should clarify this — neither aroused nor offended in the slightest, when I saw a police officer behind me. I imagine she had been called to “keep the peace,” or something to that effect, just in case the dairy protesters (or the ice cream eaters) lost their cool and got violent. There was definitely an emotional charge in the air; those protesters minced no words. The shirtless woman was the most provocative, but some of the signs they held up stopped just short of calling we ice cream eaters murderers.
Speaking to this police officer was a man with a cone in his hand, a beer belly on his gut, and a mouth full of ice cream. Between swallows, I heard him ask the officer, with a hint of bemusement beneath his anger, “At what point does this become indecent exposure?”
The police officer, full of confidence and authority, responded, “As soon as a nipple is seen.”
It was then that I realized how absurd it was for either the man to expect the officer to know this legal technicality, for the police officer to know, for the man to expect ANY police officer to have any clue about the laws they enforce, and indeed for any standard of “indecent exposure,” let alone any human-made law, to exist that is not totally and completely arbitrary.
If you enjoyed this story — and even if you didn’t — you should check out my book, Ticketless: How Sneaking Into The Super Bowl And Everything Else (Almost) Held My Life Together.